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Reality Fault

Wells, Tails, Miracles, and Magical Math

    The crew returned from their trip to Indigo safely and told Sakura of what went on, including the news of the reports back to the home office. Discussion of that followed. While the crew discusses this, Annifred finds them all in the Egg. She comes over to join the group, curling her tail casually about Douglas. "Hay, Doug, you busy tomorrow? Wise woman need well worked on; Hrolf say you know to fix?"

Douglas blinks, but doesn't quite jump out of his seat as Annifred puts her tail around him rather unexpectedly. "Oh, hello, Annifred! A... a well? Sure, I can take a look at it; it'd be my pleasure!" Wise woman? I wonder who she might be...

Sakura brightens up at this, "Annifred... do you think I could talk to the Wise Woman?"

Annifred says, "Ja! You healer, she happy talk to you. Want meet us here then go tomorrow morning?"

Sakura nods, "Please!" Kerry listens with interest. I wonder what the locals consider a 'wise woman'.

Douglas nods, looking over to Sakura. "That's fine with me. Sakura-chan?"

Sakura looks over, "Hai, Douglas-kun?"

Douglas grins sheepishly, "Sorry... just asking for confirmation that was a good time for you."

Sakura smiles. "That's just fine for me..."

Douglas bobs his head cheerfully to Sakura. "Great!"

Annifred grins, "Hokay!" She grins toothily and energetically at Kerry, asking, "You want come too, batty, or you keep looking numbers with drake-lady-friend?" The translator mangles the last word she says into three.

Kerry skrees, "I'd be interested, yes. If Douglas is going in the morning, Dow and I can still fly in the afternoon."

Annifred nods, and says, "Okay! See you all tomorrow, ja." She nuzzles Douglas on the back of the head, and murmurs something to him.

Douglas blinks at the nuzzle, giving a brief, buzzing purr, then looks up to Annifred, and smiles, nodding equally cheerfully. "Take care, Annifred!"

Kerry grins at Douglas and Annifred, but doesn't comment.

Sakura waves at Annifred. "See you tomorrow, Annifred!"

The next day Annifred and Douglas turn up at the Egg to collect Kerry and Sakura. Feina has tagged along, curious and perky as usual. Sakura walks alongside Feina, after hugging her when they arrived. Douglas smiles warmly to Feina, glad to see her again, and greets her cheerfully. Hrolf and Thurn are with them, and the group works its way through the sparsely populated area that makes up the town, until they come across a picturesque little flower-covered cottage in the middle of a clearing. Gardens surround it, with clearing beyond. Several human children play a game of some sort of chase around the gardens.

Douglas looks around, curious and still cheerful. He hasn't been in this part of the town before, and so lets Annifred lead the way. "Annifred, out of curiosity, is the wise woman a troll?"

Annifred chuckles, and says, "No, she human. Nice lady, help everyone."

Doug blinks to Annifred. "Ah, okay. The trolls help the town with the wells, then?"

"Ja," Hrolf says. "We better at digging, tunnels, than most humans. They help with other things, trade produce, we work wells, walls, stone, some metal. Human blacksmiths good too. Make different things than troll."

The Wise Woman is found stooped over and picking herbs in one of the back gardens behind the tiny, flower-smothered cottage. She straightens when the group comes around the corner, a curious look on her small, wrinkled face. Her bright, thoughtful eyes regard the group, and then she smiles, smoothing her apron down and tucking herbs into the wicker basket on one arm. She is introduced as Ragna, the local witch... yet everyone seems to address her as 'Wise Woman.' She's a small, rather energetic human woman wearing neat, old but well-repaired clothing that's mostly in earth tones and has a lot of pockets on it.

Sakura smiles and bow politely to the Wise Woman... Kerry joins in the gesture of respect, doing the full wing-spread and forward Keero bow.

Douglas nods to Hrolf, grinning. "I see. 'From each according to their abilities...'" For some reason he remembers that quote -- probably something from his one-credit accelerated American History for Uplifts course. He spots the wise woman -- that's who she must be, after all; this seems to be her home -- and taking a cue from Sakura, he bows to her as well.

The herb-woman smiles, "Well, hello there! Annifred, Hrolf, and Thurn, always a pleasure... now then. You must be Sakura of the Shy Folk, I've heard so much about you from Larrikan, dear! And let me see... you must be little Kerry, Dow's adopted chick, and you're Douglas of the newly named Broken Horn Warren, yes? It's a pleasure to meet you all."

Thurn says, "Hiya, Wise Woman! We here with foreign engineer I tell you of; also friends want meet you. We get well all fixed, ja."

Sakura smiles at the Wise Woman. "Yes. I'm Sakura..."Kerry chirrips laughter. Chick, am I? Well, what the heck.

Douglas blinks, glancing to Sakura, blinks even wider at Kerry, then blinks to the Wise Woman. Broken Horn Warren! A thrill of surprise -- and not a little pride -- runs through him, and he smiles sheepishly, bobbing his head. "Ja, I mean, yes, ma'am." He looks to Thurn and smiles quietly, nodding. This should be interesting. I don't think I've worked on one of the local wells yet. Let's see, principles of wells, that would be second semester, 'Intro to Civil Engineering' (for Uplifts, natch)...

The wise woman beams at Thurn, stepping forward to tuck her hand into his arm, "Sounds lovely, dear. Shall we head for the well right away then?" She hands the basket to Annifred, "Could you put that on the table in the front room, please?" as she starts walking towards a particularly thickly overgrown arbor that smells very pleasant. Tucking the other hand into Sakura's arm, she beams, "I so want to sit and talk with you, my dear -- Larrikan says you're a healer also? We must compare notes!" She looks around brightly, "Come along then! Anyone thirsty? Where's that nice armored one I've heard about from Blue?"

Sakura grins, "Well, yes... a doctor, actually, ma'am. I'd love to talk with you about medicine, though. It's a passion, and one I'm always eager to learn more about..." She looks around at the garden as they walk through it, trying to take it all in.

Kerry skrees, "Vash? He went off with one of the hunting parties for a few days, ma'am, so he missed the invitation."

Thurn and Hrolf follow along, looking curiously at the gardens, and the well when they get there. This is not their area of expertise, but they know rock and stone, and are quite ready and able to help with moving or digging. Feina stays close to Sakura's other side, listening closely and trying not to be in the way. Douglas also is looking around curiously and fascinatedly. Witch? I thought they were supposed to be the bad guys. Wicked Witch of the West and all that. Wait... there was a Good Witch in that story, too. Well, she's obviously respected by our friends, so there's no reason for me to worry. This is actually very pleasant. It's warm, open, comfortable... the scents are amazing! Her question startles him a little. "Oh! No, but thank you very much, ma'am!"

The wise woman is a cheerfully chatty person who always seems to be in movement... she points out the well to the trolls and Douglas, then sits down on one of the benches that circle the shadowy, aromatic bower, out of their way. Taking out some freshly pulled herbs from one of her many pockets, she hands them to Sakura, asking her what she knows about the small plants. As she does that she beckons Kerry over, "Let me have a look at those wings, please, dear... Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow wanted me to check and be sure there wasn't a physical reason for you not flying."

Annifred returns from her errand of putting the basket down, and playing with one of the cats, of which there are several around, who poke their heads out and peer at the visitors once they've been there a few moments.

Kerry has been trying to remember anything he can about wells, but is coming up with simple physics problems about pressure and windlasses and not much else. He's surprised by the witch's question, but nods. "Where we come from, I'm just a little too heavy to fly. I've been building up my muscles since I got here, but no luck so far." He holds his wings up for her to look at. She'll gently run her brown-skinned hands along his wing-arms, nodding and listening intently to anything Sakura says as she carefully pokes, prods, and tests Kerry's bone structure and ligaments.

Douglas hmms thoughtfully and kneels -- cautiously! -- beside the well, peering down into it. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Annifred playing with the cats. Well, she must be, as the humans back on Earth would say, a cat person. Or a cat troll. He blinks a little in surprise, then laughs softly to himself, turning his attention back to the well. That's rather fitting, actually. Does that make me a 'troll person'? Er, 'troll cat'? His mental kitten, of course, is cheerfully elated by Annifred and the cats.

Sakura says, "I think that I've been shown these before," turning the plants over in her hands. "They're brewed into a tea, bitter... but for the life of me I can't remember what the tea is for."

Ragna nods encouragingly to Sakura, "Anything else?"

Sakura frowns in concentration. She shakes her head, "No... sorry."

The witch nods encouragingly to Sakura, then takes a moment to explain the situation to Douglas and Hrolf. It's quickly revealed that the well problem isn't that bad, really. She'd like some of the old, rotting stone replaced with fresh new cobbles. The issues are twofold -- the rotting stones are half way down the well shaft, and the old witch-woman would like the repairers to be careful not to drop too much dirt or stone into the well. The water is very fresh and pure, and she uses it in her infusions, emulsions, and other concoctions.

Douglas thinks carefully at Ragna's description of the problem. He looks to Hrolf. "Maybe we can put some sort of sheet of cloth over the water to catch any possible detritus while we replace the cobbles?" He looks down. "We'd need to find some way to climb down there without messing with the cobbles along the edge... like a sturdy bipod of some sort, to hold the person up down there and to lift out buckets of the old cobble. And someone light enough to go down there..." He blinks, then looks between Hrolf and Thurn, then smiles sheepishly. Which means me...

Hrolf nods, "Ja. Can be we wedge beam across below weakness, stand on, work, hang catcher from." The trolls set to work, chuckling cheerfully, using tools and some of the equipment they've brought with them. It's not too long before they're ready to lower Douglas. Annifred grins and asks, "Can swim, Dougie?"

Douglas looks startledly to Annifred in the middle of taking off his shirt. "Swim?" He looks down into the well. Well, you knew that there was that possibility, Doug. I hope she doesn't have any water-hags in there... He gulps. "Ah... I think I can... I'll have a safety rope tied around me, won't I, Hrolf?" Annifred reassures him that he will, and that they'll have a good grip on him. Doug looks doubtfully into the well, Oh, man, it's dark down there... dark and wet and who knows how deep that water is... gah! Enough, Doug! You've a job to do, whether you're aquaphobic like every other cat or not!

But I still don't like water...

Ragna turns back to beam happily at Sakura, then pats Kerry's shoulder, "All right, little chick, I'm finished checking. You can tell dear Dow that your wings seem to be in fine shape." She turns to Sakura, the cheerful smile still on her wrinkled brown face, "That's wonderful, dear -- I was afraid I'd not have anything I could share with you! But it looks like I can actually teach you a little, in exchange for your home's magics and healings." She glances over at the trolls and Doug, nods once when she realizes that they don't need her attention, and turns back to the two vixens, "All right, this is chamomile, of the daisy family. Note the yellow florets in a cone shape, and the tooth-lobed leaves. Chamomile's internal uses are digestive, hepatic, biliary, antispasmodic, and carminative..."

Sakura says, "Do you mind if I write this down, Ragna-sempai?"

The witch woman chuckles, looking up from the handful of herbs she's systematically sorting, "Oh, just Ragna is fine, dear... and certainly, writing is fine until you learn the memory charms."

Sakura grabs her datapad and jots down what Ragna told her about this plant, and a description of it... Kerry listens for a bit, though he gets confused by the plants and their names and uses rather quickly. She is going native... I would have automatically recorded this, myself...

The trolls and Doug work on the well industriously, chatting back and forth, occasionally asking the wise woman about things. She's prepared -- there's a nice, tidy pile of material for them to use to repair with, and she leaves them in the bower with instructions to send one of the playing children after her if they have any further questions.

Saki, Feina, a handful of curious children, and the wise woman end up spending a pleasant several hours wandering in the gardens, following the witch as she moves quietly through her gardens... pruning, singing encouragement charms over recalcitrant herbs, weeding, explaining, and offering samples to Sakura to start her own gardens with. Sakura keeps the samples carefully tucked away in her medpack. She seems to genuinely enjoy being in the garden with Ragna. Being a doctor, she loves learning about new medicines, or in this case, old ones. She's in her element here and looks it.

Feina also comes along, not taking notes, but simply remembering. She's seen a lot of herbs and seems to be good at recognizing them. Being near the two healers seems to impress her a great deal.

Kerry drifts off after a while to watch the children for a time, then to watch Douglas and the trolls work on the well. The children think Kerry is great fun, and all want to see his wings, and ask if he can fly, and if he'll give them a ride. Kerry will oblige the kids by swooping down on them from the trees, and will even give a few of the smaller ones a glide-ride if he can. Unfortunately it's more of a plummet-ride, but they still end up in shrieking laughter.

Once Douglas is working in the well, Annifred comes over and kneels by Ragna, asking, "Wise Woman? You see cougar friend? He no tail has, accident take long ago." She flicks her tail behind her, adding, "We thinking terrible shame. You know to fix? Like Njar's hand?"

The witch straightens and pauses thoughtfully, considering Annifred's request. She's short enough that Annifred, kneeling, looks her in the eyes. She actually stands still and unmoving for about thirty seconds -- more than she's done the whole time people have been there so far... then finally nods decisively, "Annie dear, I'm afraid that's not my area of expertise. However, you should take your nice young man to the University. Ask for Coldwillow and say I sent you, then explain the predicament. She owes me a favor, and is a nice person to boot." She smiles, reaching up to pat Annifred's broad, stony shoulder, "Incidentally, dear, have you been keeping up on the limestone in your diet? You're looking a little dark, I think?"

Annifred grins, "Okay! Thank you, Wise Woman!" At the other question she grins, "I make sure I get, promise."

Ragna nods firmly, already stooping to pick another herb, "You need at least 1600 mg a day, Annie dear, don't forget! -and good luck with that nice Dougie's tail -- I'm sure Coldwillow will be just what you need. Now then, Sakura dear..."

The work on the well continues, with the trolls beginning to lower new stones to Douglas after having removed the old ones. Amidst the examination of the garden a woman's voice calls, "Wise Woman! Are you home?" A note of urgency sounds in the voice. Even before the question has ended, the witch is on her feet and moving towards the front, calling out briskly, "Hello there!" Sakura follows the Wise Woman around to the front of the house, the note of distress in the voice urging her on... she's a doctor.

In the front of the cottage is a somewhat short, gently round woman, brown hair tied back in a bun, with the first streaks of gray in it. She has with her a pale and unhappy looking young man. When the witch comes around, she says, "Wise Woman! I hope you can help us!" She explains that her eldest son, Balden, was just fine until he began complaining of a terrible stomachache. "It didn't pass, as we expected it too, and has only gotten worse. What's wrong?" The pale and sweating young man murmurs only, "It hurts," swaying on his feet.

The wise woman nods calmly, listening intently as she swiftly examines the youth. She gently raises an eyelid, frowns, presses with the fingertips of both hands very gently under the chin, nods to the woman, and continues to examine the boy as she calls out, "Annifred, Douglas, Hrolf! I need you here now, please -- Doug, Hrolf, carry Balden in. Keep him horizontal -- no jostling. Annifred, clear the front table so the boy can lay on it. Sakura, stir up the fire and put a kettle of water on; Feina, you stay with the mother." Her voice is clear and compelling... she's quite calm, and yet the trolls, the human woman, and Feina all immediately follow orders at once.

Sakura dashes into the hut before the others come in with the boy. She stirs the fire and looks around for something to put water in. "Just water from the well?" she wonders out loud, looking around to see if there's another source of water.

Annifred makes sure Hrolf can get Douglas out, then moves quickly to do what she is asked, helping to make sure the boy gets settled as quickly as possible, when the other trolls (Douglas included) bring him in. Douglas' ears perk, and he scrambles quickly out of the well. He's confused at first, but then moves to comply with the witch's instructions. After hearing that the young man is being brought in to a table, horizontally and carefully, he starts wondering just how advanced Crossroads surgery techniques are. He has a queasy feeling he's about to find out.

Kerry hears everyone else getting orders and starts toward the house -- then stops, realizing the best contribution he can make is to keep the kids clear. Uh-oh. That sounds like it might be something nasty. Best to keep the kids away if they need to do surgery.

The very pale, sweating young man is carried into the little cottage and carefully laid on the hastily cleared large wooden table. Sakura sets the kettle onto the fire to boil and then comes over to look at the boy and Ragna... the witch woman does a few more checks, gently raising the boy's shirt and pressing his abdominal area lightly... she stops immediately, frowning, as the boy cries out in pain, then turns slowly towards the anxious human woman. The others can see the faint yellowish tinge to the boy's skin now.

The human woman just looks at Ragna's quiet face, then bursts into racking sobs. Feina struggles at the unexpected weight as the mother collapses on her, but gamely tries to get her to a seat. The witch woman sighs quietly, and heads for Sakura, murmuring quietly, "Poor boy... I'm afraid what he's got isn't anything I can help with... all we can do is numb him so he won't feel the pain. We'll need something to help the mother grieve too..."

Sakura says, "Ragna... I can help him."

The witch woman starts to sort through a tall upright cupboard of herbs, but stops immediately, peering over her shoulder at the vixen in startlement, "What?!" She recovers very quickly, though, "No, explain later -- do it, do it! What do you need?"

Sakura nods at Ragna. "I know how to fix this..." She grabs her bag from the floor where she put it down and sets it down on the table. She quickly unpacks what she needs for the operation. Scalpel, threaded surgical needle, lots of gauze... she pulls out a vial of anesthetic and loads a syringe up, then injects it into a vein in his arm. "Someone get him out of those clothes while I get things ready..."

Douglas blinks to Sakura, and, swallowing the unease that rises within him, starts to divest the young man of his clothes. Here's hoping this works, Sakura-chan, he thinks. When that is done he lets himself be shooed out, remaining quietly by the door. The witch woman is utterly focused, despite her wide-eyed fascination -- in moments the clothing is removed, the mother is quieted, the door is shut, non-essential persons are politely shooed out...

Sakura says, "I've just put him to sleep while I operate..." She disinfects her equipment quickly, then swabs down his stomach. She looks around at the people gathered, smiles and says, "Trust me," and brings the scalpel down...

The wise woman assures everyone that if their help is needed they'll be called, and they can watch through the window as long as they're quiet. She's a deft, attentive pair of hands while Sakura operates, and the surgery goes smoothly and easily. Indeed, were it not that someone's life was on the line, Sakura might even have thought it a cakewalk -- if only all the surgeries she'd done or had to do were this straightforward and easy!

During the surgery, Feina stares in shock at what Sakura is doing, not understanding why the nice vixen has suddenly carved into this sick boy. Douglas hasn't reacted badly and she trusts Sakura, but she finds the whole thing kind of horrifying and doesn't understand what's going on.

The expressions at the window would be comical if anyone had the time to observe them. The mother almost faints, then hastily busies herself helping Kerry keep the children away. Feina's mouth is hanging open in shock and amazement throughout the entire surgery. Hrolf is utterly astonished, quietly whispering questions to Annifred, "Can do that?! Really are soft squishies inside!?" Annifred herself is clinging to Doug's arm and staring wide-eyed as well.

Some time later Sakura finishes the final stitch, then cleans the boy's stomach up with a combination of warm water and antiseptic. It will probably be a while before he wakes, though... Sakura sets her instruments down to be cleaned, then shows the excised appendix to Ragna. "This is what was hurting him. I've removed it so it won't cause him any more pain..."

Douglas glances in, then to Feina, Hrolf, and Annifred. "It's... hard to explain..." He does his best to give details about appendicitis, saying that the 'soft squishies' inside are known to their people back from where they came from, and that sometimes one of the organs can be dangerous, and have to be carefully removed. "But it's not at all easy, and it's really not something to just do. I know I can't do it, not at all." He glances in again and lets out a breath, as Sakura seems like she's cleaning up. "Sakura is one of the best," he says, not without some pride for the vixen. "She knows exactly what she's doing."

Feina's still staring inside even as she listens to Douglas. Her softly breathed, "Oooh..." is almost worshipful, and the mother nervously inquires, "She... she didn't kill him, right?"

Kerry shakes his head. "He should be fine in a few weeks. He'll have to heal, but our people know how to cure some things that way. Very specialized skill, it is, even among our healers.

Sakura says, "He'll have to keep the cut very clean and I'll help keep it from becoming infected. It will heal like any bad cut does, but he'll be fine. That might have killed him... but he'll be okay now..." She clears her things from the table, dropping everything into a plastic bag inside her medpack, to be cleaned when she has more energy later...

The witch woman shakes her head, smiling as she wipes off tools and helps clean up, "My dear, I can see there is much we can share -- this is so exciting!" There's a tightly repressed excitement to her, and once she's sure the young man is resting comfortably, she turns and hugs the vixen tightly, "You don't know what this means to me -- this would have killed him here!"

Sakura smiles, "I'm just glad I could help, Ragna..."

The wise woman pauses to wipe her eyes -- she's deeply moved, "This... this is nothing short of a miracle!" She beams at Sakura, then cheerfully waves everyone else back in. The mother enters slowly and worriedly, then rushes to her unconscious boy.

Sakura stammers, blushing. "It's not a miracle... it's just... my job. Medicine..."

Feina is still staring at Sakura, terribly impressed. She sort of feels around, finds a chair, slides into it, and continues to stare, mouth still hanging open in incredulous astonishment. Kerry can't help grinning at Feina's shock, and sneaks up behind her. He reaches around her shoulder and gently pushes her jaw shut...

The witch woman smiles at Sakura, patting her arm, "Now, now, there's no need for false modesty here, dear." She turns to the mother, adding proudly, "This amazing young doctor saved your boy from certain death! Don't worry, he's sleeping it off right now." The mother, reassured, becomes a little incoherent -- she throws her arms around Sakura and cries in sheer relief.

Sakura smiles at the mother and hugs her. "I have some things that you'll have to do, to make sure he heals okay..." She digs around in her medical bag... then grabs a one-week blister pack of antibiotics and hands them to the boy's mother. "He has to keep the cut very clean... Make sure you boil the water you wash it with for ten minutes, then let it cool before you clean with it... and he's to take one of these every morning at breakfast until they're all gone... those stitches will go away on their own, so you don't need to worry about them, but if one breaks, you must come back to me. No strenuous exercise. Okay?"


The well is easily fixed, once Doug and the trolls turn their minds to it. The boy recovers well, and the news of the miraculous magic the foreign vixen can do spreads like wildfire. The Shy Folk that hear the story regard Sakura with nothing short of awe, and people start to recognize and cheerfully greet the crew when passing on the street or in town. Verses are added to the Song of Heroes, and occasionally the crew hears snatches of the song being hummed or sung when they're around. Blue proudly starts painting black t-tunics for the locals with the insignia of the heroic group -- the white skull and crossbones.


    A few days pass after Sakura performs the miracle at the Wise Woman's. This news is regarded with interest by the impressed trolls, but not with the shock and incredulity the humans in town seem to think it is. Either the trolls don't care, or they've decided that it's a matter of course that these foreigners are able to do amazing things.

    There are constant repair jobs of walls, doors, hinges, wells, and a few small engines that this trollhome has which keep Douglas busy and engaged. Working with the trolls is always enjoyable, as they'd rather do it right than get it done quickly, and seem to be in a permanently good humor. Evenings are spent in the trollhome, with its communal meal and companionship. All the trolls seem to like Douglas, and are typically cuddly and touchy.

Douglas, of course, thoroughly enjoys the work-ethic of the trolls -- he likes doing a job right, and unlike the corporate "culture" back on Earth, there's no rush just to maximize a profit margin. Jobs which need to be done by a certain time are simply done. There's no screaming, no shouting, no veiled threats, no dire promises -- work is simply done, done with, and done right. It's probably the most relaxing work atmosphere Doug's ever been in, and he must be doing at least twice the actual work he ever did back before TAG picked him up.

Douglas has also come to accept and, moreover, enjoy the pleasant, close companionship of the trolls throughout the day and into the evening. It no longer bothers him -- if it ever did, well, at least here on Crossroads -- or should bother him if everything in the trollhome is shared, including, cheerfully, each other, for the warmth and pleasant and thoroughly enjoyable company just makes it all seem reasonable and natural. He's pretty sure his cougar forbears, by nature solitary creatures, wouldn't be quite so close a community, but even if he's been feeling his genetic heritage, nothing says he has to stick to that heritage.

Most evenings, one or the other of the trolls will wind up spending more time with Douglas than others. One evening when Annifred has cheerfully claimed Douglas' attention, she winds up rubbing his lower back, seeming interested in his amputated tail, although not as usually blunt.

Douglas relaxes comfortably with Annifred, sigh-purring contentedly... and starts to feel her hand lightly -- for a troll -- upon his lower back, not quiet but almost touching where his tail used to be. He opens his eyes and looks up and over to Annifred, smiling calmly. "I do miss it, sometimes," he says quietly. "But it's been so long, I've learned to work without it."

Annifred looks for a long time at Douglas, then asks, "How lose tail?"

Douglas fidgets, but only a little bit. "There was an... accident," he says a little hesitantly. "We were testing a- er, a big engine -- really big one. I helped to design a small part of it. There was one place, though, which wasn't properly closed off, and my tail got caught in there. Er... the next thing I knew, I woke up in a hospital, and they told me that they had to amputate it at the base." He grins sheepishly, and with a bit of a rictus. "If what I think happened to it, did, then I really wouldn't want to be carrying it around still..."

The troll runs her fingers slowly over the stump and says, "Is sad. Nice cougar should have nice tail, ja?"

Douglas's ear tips turn rather pink, and he smiles, reaching around her to lightly rub at the base of her own tail. "Back home they have prosthetic limbs for arms and legs, but they never thought of making prosthetic tails. If I had the choice I'd want my tail back, but... well, there just was never any way to get a new one."

Annifred says, "That very sad. How not live with nice tail?" She strokes the cougar gently for a moment, then adds, "Trolls talk about tail while you work. Think very sad you not have nice tail like trolls. If you want, we go to mages and fix."

Douglas blinks, his ears perking in surprise as he gives a start. "The... mages? Fix? My tail...?" He shakes his head to clear it. "You mean... Annifred, you mean that the... the mages can... uhm..." Graft a new tail onto me? Grow a new one? What could they do?! Wait... you're in a world where your translator is made from leaves which were grown from a pebble. Expect the unexpected, kitten. He swallows, feeling just a little light-headed, trying to remember what it was like to have the heavy tail behind him, helping his balance... the months of learning how to walk right without it... "I'm... I'm speechless!" he finally stammers. "Oh! Yes... yes, Annifred, I'd love to ask them if they can help! Thank you, thank you so much!"

Annifred beams, grinning her sharp-toothed grin, "I glad you like. Some not sure question won't upset." On that note, Annifred decides she's talked enough and starts some serious snuggling.

The next morning Annifred and Thurn take Douglas with them, and go to the University. The flow of humans parts easily for the three large, distinctively dressed troll-clan members, although no one seems particularly worried to see them there. They make their way to a small building on the far edge of the campus, nestled under the protection of a huge old tree. Built of sod and partly sunken into the ground, the little place seems almost to have grown there. The door, made of wood, is closed. Thurn knocks carefully, and both he and Annifred seem to be somewhat subdued and respectful.

Douglas is, admittedly, a little nervous, though oddly not nearly as much as he would be if it was a doctor back home. Then again, most of the doctors back home were straight humans, some of whom saw uplifts as biological machines. He'd heard one or two pseudo-self-effacing -- but actually fairly insulting, to him, now that he thinks about it -- cracks about "veterinarians." But here, today, in the comfortable familiarity of the University, he wonders idly what the mages could do for his tail; that he'd want to do something for them in return is already a given, for him.

A gray-haired woman answers the door, although a few strongly dark streaks remain visible. She appears strong and healthy, and is built of sturdy stock; tall for a human, probably from a farming family. Her sharp green eyes look piercingly at everything they see, taking in the two trolls and the alien cougar. She stands easily at the door, saying in a sure voice, "Can I help you?" She's obviously unafraid even of the three very large people who have confronted her.

Thurn smiles and says respectfully, "Ja, Professor Coldwillow. We ask about restoring lost tail, ja?" He gestures to Douglas, "Tail for him." The woman's gaze turns to Douglas, "Oh. I had assumed this was a for a troll." She examines Douglas carefully, then says, "I don't believe I've met anyone like you before." Only then does she smile and add, "My name is Coldwillow, and I am a professor of advanced life magics here at the University."

Douglas smiles warmly -- instinctively careful not to show his teeth -- and bows politely. "Pleased to meet you, ma'am. My name's Douglas."

Annifred speaks up, "He part of our trollhome, Professor. Can help?" The woman approves of Douglas' politeness, saying, "Let us walk a little. Tell me your story, Douglas. Where have you come from, and how did you lose your tail, and how long ago? We'll see if I can help." She gestures out into the forest, and begins to walk with the trolls, although tending to remain a little back, watching Douglas' walk.

Douglas blinks and nods, thinking he understands why the doctor is watching his walk and trying to walk naturally. Kind of like thinking about breathing, he notes amusedly to himself. He relates the story to the doctor as best as he can remember it, and as the doctors told him. After all, once the machine yanked his tail inside and close-hauled his rump to the casing, there's not much he remembers at all -- which is probably for the best.

In answer to Coldwillow's question about where he came from... it's a little harder for him to explain, but he tries. He mentions only in passing the war that saw the uplifts' creation, and how that was several generations before. He doesn't go into the persecution and prejudice, barely hinting at it -- while that would be a fascinating story in and of itself, he's sure, he's also pretty sure that it's not medically relevant to what the doctor -- er, mage, mage! -- wants to know.

Coldwillow is interested indeed in the fact that Douglas is a created species, and asks a question or two about that, "Were you made, or born from parents? Were your parents made, or born? Do you know which magics were involved in your making?"

Douglas says, "Oh, it... wasn't magic, I'm afraid, it was... technology. Er..." He plunges on quickly. "My parents were born, as were my parent's parents. It's been... gosh, several generations of my family since the war. Nobody who fought in that war is still alive. No uplifts, anyway."

The Professor looks mildly shocked when she hears it was technology that created a species, but relaxes when she hears it's been a number of generations. "As it's been a number of generations, there shouldn't be any conflict from the type of magery I would use. Good." As the walk about the forest continues, she asks, "Would you like your tail back, Douglas?" It seems an odd question, but she's serious as she asks it.

Douglas lets out a breath and relaxes. The question takes him a little by surprise, and he looks to her -- but only for a moment. "Yes," he says. "Yes, I would, if it's possible." No human would go to the trouble of thinking of a prosthetic tail, and why would they? They don't need it for balance, and plenty of tail-less uplifts make do well enough. Gosh, though... I remember having a tail. I remember how Mom and Dad would flirt their tails at one another whenever they walked past each other. How I could tell if Dad was really, really angry or just joking. I'm going to have to learn how to walk and stand right again; I'm going to have to learn how to express myself -- but it'll come back to me, I'm sure... "I... never thought it could be... before coming here..."

Coldwillow watches Douglas as he answers, and can tell he truly means it. She says, "You have to want your tail back for it to work, Douglas. The magic needs your mental image of how things should be, before it can start." She turns about, saying, "Come. I'll give you the things you need, and arrange to start the casting." She leads the way back to the little building. Thurn and Annifred grin at one another and Annifred says, "That very good, ja."

On returning to the sod building, Coldwillow opens the door and gestures the others in. A one-room workshop is revealed, dim and musty smelling from the sod walls and from the large number of odd things in cabinets around the edges of the room. Notably, there is a large fish tank at one end of the room, and another cabinet that locks very securely and is banded with metal -- to keep something out... or maybe in.

The center of the room has three large tables there. Two of them have things on them; the third is empty. One is filled with several kinds of plants growing in pots under a strange, glowing sphere, which lights the table in an odd blue-green glow. The other has a couple of cages on it, in which some sort of little rodents are running about doing rodent-y things. Other than being unlike any other rodent Douglas remembers, they seem unremarkable.

The Professor picks up what looks like a lantern and opens the shutters, revealing a bright light source, full-spectrum and rich, which she hangs up on a beam over the third table. "Douglas, please disrobe and lie down here, so I can have a look at what we have to start with." She adds, "Getting started is the hard part."

Douglas nods, still a little dazzled about what he's seeing in the mage's workshop. The engineer in him is burning with curiosity about that locked cabinet; his mind-kitten is trying desperately to keep his attention from anywhere near it. Complying without needless modesty -- She's a doctor, or sort of, after all, and it's not like Annifred and Thurn haven't seen me in the fur before, either! -- the cougar pulls off his shirt and shorts and perches on the table, lying face down -- or at least resting his head on his paws, so the doctor -- MAGE! -- can see the stub of his tail.

The professor moves over and runs her hands over Douglas' spine and the stub of his tail, professionally feeling out his anatomy. She nods, "Interesting. May I examine the rest of you as well, Douglas? I'm always curious how others would create a species, and there is much to learn from their successes."

Douglas blinks a little. "Ah... certainly, ma'am, that's no problem at all..." And this isn't anything unlike what the art students and all the rest asked us to do the first day we were here -- including Annifred! Wow, was it really all that long ago...? He rolls gingerly onto his back, silently glad that the mage's hands aren't cold.

The mage smiles and says, "Thank you." She does a quite thorough examination of the cougar, asking him to open his mouth, looking at his ears and eyes, at his feet and hands, pretty much missing nothing. She steps back finally and says, "Fascinating. Thank you, Douglas for your patience. You can dress again, we're done. Let me get something for you, and then we'll tell you what you must do."

Douglas bobs his head cheerfully. "Thank you, ma'am, and I'm glad I could help." He starts pulling on his clothing again, curious and wondering what regimen Coldwillow could give him to help re-grow his tail... and other thoughts besides, such as what she might have meant by it being good that it's been several generations since the uplifts were created... and that he needed to want to have his tail back. Technology and magic, magic and technology, ever separated, ever inimical... does it have to be that way? So much to think upon...

Professor Coldwillow rummages in a cabinet, then comes back with a couple of large jars filled with something white. She opens one and says, "Rub this on your tail once a day." She smiles and adds, "I expect your friends will be happy to help with that part." Annifred grins back. The Professor continues, "While you are rubbing -- or it is being applied, either is fine -- you must think about how much you want your tail to return, and about how much you've missed it." She gives Douglas the two jars, asking, "Do you understand?"

Douglas blinks a little, his ear tips blushing deeply, and nods as he accepts the jars. "I... I think so, yes." He adds after a moment's thought, "That's what magic depends on, doesn't it? At its core? Wanting something to happen?"

The Professor says, "Among other things. There is a lot involved in channeling energy into the right path of those desires. In this case I, and probably a couple of assistants, will work on generating the energy and giving it a general direction, but your desire and belief will be what makes the final adjustment."

Douglas nods, listening slowly. Not unlike really good engineering, at that, he thinks, -well, at the base level. You have to want to make something work in order to design it properly. I have no idea how to generate that kind of energy, though, and I imagine that it's a lot more difficult than mechanical drafting! "I think I see. Thank you, ma'am. I'll do as you say." He grins softly. "And I'm looking forward to being with tail again. Thank you."

Coldwillow smiles, "You're welcome, Douglas. I'm pleased to be able to help restore you to your natural form." She adds, "Oh, before I forget, it may take two or three days before your tail begins to grow back. It may also itch. The lotion should help with the itching. If anything seems unusual do not hesitate to come and ask. If, as I expect, all goes well, no follow up is required." Thurn says, "Thank you, Professor. You call if trolls can help, ja."

Douglas bobs his head, smiling, holding the jars very carefully. "I'll remember that, Doct- er, sorry, ma'am!" Then he looks to Annifred and Thurn, and feels a faint tightening within his throat. "And thank you both," he says quietly. "Without you..." He can't finish that, and simply shakes his head, biting his lip and smiling sheepishly.

Annifred and Thurn just grin and take the pleased cougar away with them Thurn saying, "Without you, horn still threaten. We help each other, ja." The trip to the trollhome is uneventful, but when they get there the news spreads quickly and makes everybody happy. Douglas has no shortage of volunteers to help with lotion should he wish.

The cougar does as the mage asks -- it doesn't occur to him that the thought of wishing something to happen is, to engineers back home, rather silly. He concentrates, remembering all that he can about his tail and his family's tails from his youth; what a joy it was to walk and express one's self with one's tail, how good it would be to have it back.

And it works.

Or at least starts to. He doesn't immediately notice it until Annifred points it out to him; that it begins to grow, actually grow, a little less than an inch a day. This only spurs him on more, the little daily ritual bringing him an odd sense of wonder. While the appendage itches, and is for the time being with very little fur, he's cheered and ecstatic; the emotion of the moment almost bowls him over when he finds his tail twitching as it was once wont to do as he sat there deep in thought.

Despite its mildly (for him) disturbing appearance -- being without fur -- the trolls like it a lot... though possibly, he thinks, more that he's becoming whole again. That thought -- of being whole again -- brings on more philosophic musings, which he starts to jot down in moments when he thinks of them.


    Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow's Nest
    Dizzyingly high up in one of the ancient old forest trees that graciously host the University, there's a tidy little niche-home. It faces towards the rising sun and is shaped oddly like an igloo, with a narrow tunnel from the outside leading in to a round, cozy room. A small ceramic fireplace/pot is located in the center of the carpeted room, venting to the outside for cold winters. Small niches in the curving wooden walls hold books, firewood, and other useful tools... although 'small' is probably the wrong word for a room and tools that are properly sized... for a drake.

Music and Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow fill the small room quite effectively, and the warmth of the early sun traces some of the drake's scales in gold. She smiles at Kerry, nodding to a couch that's recessed into one of the wall niches, "Here we are... welcome to my home, Kerry-who-should-be-flying-and-is-not-yet." She hisses a soft command, and the music goes softer... something languorous and drifting and sensual, much like herself, which seems to be coming from one of the walls. She turns back to the small bat, adding, "Dr. Zildjian says you want to talk to me about mathematics and navigation, yes?" Her more hissing speech seems well suited to mangling the name only slightly.

    The drake is not quite a snake, but still a long and slender creature. Her supple body is about eight feet long, with a winding twelve-foot tail, which she wraps about something to hang on to when in the branches of a tree. Her gracefully curved neck is about four feet long, with a triangular, large-eyed head. She is colored a lovely jade green, with a bright golden crest which runs down her back to the tip of her pointed tail. Her leathery wings are about fifteen feet across, and fold up behind her, a lighter green. A few jewel-like painted patterns can be seen gracefully trailing along her lithe length.

Kerry is fascinated by the drake's quarters, but brings himself back to the matter at hand. "Yes. I'm not entirely sure where Crossroads stands in navigation or in mathematics, but I would like to offer my knowledge to the University. Either as an instructor, if I can, or as a research assistant."

    Kerry Skydancer is tall for a Keero -- nearly five feet in height, counting the oversized and elaborately ridged ears that dominate a short-muzzled face with sharp fangs and solid black eyes. His fur is very dark gray, nearly black, coarse on his body and fine and downy on his wing membranes. The wings attract most folk's attention the first time they meet one of his kind. They unfold to double the length of human arms for a being his size, leathery membranes supported by skeletal frameworks built on the bones corresponding to part of the wrist and the last two fingers of other mammals. The membranes attach to his body from shoulder to waist, so he wears a poncho-like tunic instead of a shirt and a rather low-slung pair of shorts. The fabric is medium gray, but dull and glossy in odd patterns -- supposedly the different textures mean something to Keero sonar. He is also wearing a leather headband of some sort and a leather anklet adorned with colorful patterns.

The drake nods once, "Very well. First we must observe the amenities... then we'll see what you know already." She considers the small bat, then smiles again, all her teeth showing in spite of herself, and gives Kerry careful instructions on how to find the accoutrements to make tea in the tiny space provided. Kerry, who's been in many, many classes, can hear the quiet, calm, patient tones of a good teacher in the graduate student's voice.

Kerry follows the drake's instructions, carefully gathering the ingredients and making the tea, recognizing that he's learning something important about at least one aspect of Crossroads culture. There is an obvious formality inherent in the ceremony he is being coached through. He places the teapot on the ceramic oven and stands back while Dow lights it with a careful exhalation -- something he can't do no matter how he's coached.

The drake looks pleased as the small bat handles the (relatively) large tools deftly. She actually has a few small (to her) stein-sized mugs for visitors, as well as her bowl-sized (to Kerry) teacup. She happily chats with him about small things -- how he's feeling, how his wings are doing, what his days have been like -- while the water heats and, later, the tea steeps, releasing a pleasant floral scent into the room. Once they're both settled with their tea she inhales, looking pleased again, and compliments him on his handling of the tea preparation... then for several moments they both neatly lap or sip their tea, as best suits their personal physiogenies.

Finally Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow sighs softly and contentedly, raising her head enough to very gently run her scaled chin along Kerry's up-standing ears, "Thank you, Kerry-chick. So... if you take some of the chalk from that niche there, you can next show me what mathematics you're familiar with, I think. Shall we start with the simple maths?" She carefully curls her claw-fingers around her warm teacup and rests her head on her scaled side so she's out of the way and can easily observe the smooth wooden wall she's indicated Kerry should write on. He can see that there's probably been quite a bit of scribbling and rubbing off done on this wall, over time.

Kerry enjoys the small talk, and enjoys the tea as well, a bit lighter than what he's used to on Earth Home -- and a lot lighter than coffee. He takes the chalk and then chirrs, "One problem. My notation isn't what you use, I'm certain. We use a base-10 place notation.." He scribes the Arabic numerals as he talks, 1 through 10. "Addition, equality..." He chalks up 2+3=5. "Multiplication, division, subtraction..." again chalking appropriate simple equations as he goes. "I will need to learn your notation at the very least."

The drake watches intently, nodding thoughtfully on occasion as she studies the interestingly different notation. "I... believe I recognize your numbers... go on, please? Do you know any... hm, I don't know if this will translate, but let's try -- do you know any geometry or algebra?" She smiles, "Fortunately for you, the general base notation is 10 here also... it was based on the first civilizations, all of whose mathematically inclined deities had ten digits between their two manipulator limbs. The... symbols for division, subtraction, addition... those are different, but easily learned."

Kerry looks relieved. "I'd hoped so. I'm used to base 10 -- well, also base 16 for computers, but that's not useful here -- but I can learn new symbols easily enough. Algebra, certainly, and some geometry -- trigonometry and spherical geometry in particular. Does Crossroads have the technique of calculus?"

Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow chuckles softly, "But of course, Kerry-chick... what sort of simple maths would we be teaching without it? Go ahead and show me some, if you would? I am interested in your notations... what sorts of deities did they come from?" She adds, "Ours are mostly from Cat's people, and from the sacred Dragons of the Air in the far East."

Kerry chuckles as he runs through some of the basic geometric proofs. "Well, not deities. If we ever had any on Home, they weren't particularly mathematically helpful. Our humans had to figure things out on their own. Euclid was our first geometer, and later Reimann and Lobachevsky. Calculus was invented... or perhaps discovered... by Newton and Leibniz." He breaks off at that point, running through the proof in words, starting from the basic postulates of planar geometry to see what reaction he gets.

The drake watches in interest, occasionally stopping the bat to ask him to explain particular symbols. From her occasional pleased nods he gets the feeling that she finds his explanations clear. Once he's done she smiles, "Very good, Kerry. You have a nice, solid grasp of the theory. I'm quite pleased to see that, considering you had no helpful deities. I was a little worried you wouldn't have the simple maths down. Go on, please? Do you know any other branches?

Kerry nods and shifts, going through some basic trigonometry, then shifting to a few more advanced proofs before shifting to calculus. Again, he goes through the basics and then goes to an example of advanced techniques, in this case multivariable calculus and differential equations. "Those are the ones I use most often in my own work. I do know a bit about logic and Boolean algebra -- our computers use it a lot -- some set theory and group theory. I've got the equivalent of introductory books," gesturing to his data-pad, "-on topology and number theory as well, but those are not my strongest fields."

The drake nods, still looking pleased at what Kerry's told her so far, "Excellent, Kerry-chick! Training you to use proper notation should be relatively simple. Can you by any chance do three-dimensional calculations in your head as well, yet?"

Kerry skrees, "Some. Unlike most of my colleagues, I'm not dependent on machines to do my arithmetic for me. I'm more comfortable doing it on paper if it's complex -- or sand-tables, or whatever -- but I can manage."

Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow beams at the little bat, her fangs showing again, "Impressive! That's not a common ability in the simple maths anyway, despite it being always steady-state, since most of the new young mathematicians aren't fliers. Good for you! Now... let's see. I think we've covered steady-state math quite well. Why don't you show me some of the complex maths, please?" The drake looks rather proud of her adopted chick, gently rubbing her chin against his ears again as she waits for him to write.

Kerry looks rueful. He's suddenly realizing he's made a very chauvinistic error -- he assumed that a lack of technological sophistication automatically translated to a lack of mathematical sophistication as well. He's not sure why, now that he thinks about it, since magic probably has some mathematical requirements as well... and he's not at all sure what Dow considers higher mathematics. "Hmm... those are all the branches I know. Do you mean more advanced techniques of these branches? That I can do... otherwise I'm afraid I don't quite know what you mean by complex maths."

The drake shifts her large head back enough so she can regard the little bat, "Complex maths? You know, mathematica magica, the mental-state maths?"

Kerry sighs. "There's no magic where I come from, Dow. This is either because we've not discovered the maths for it, or because there's no magic we've never discovered the maths. That's about all I know."

The drake's slitted eyes widen, then narrow, in a gesture that looks remarkably like a human blink of astonishment. A moment later she says slowly, "You... don't have any of the complex maths? None at all?"

Kerry sighs. "I... doubt it. I don't know for sure, until you tell me something about it. We might know it under other names, but..."

Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow thinks for a moment... then realizes Kerry's just standing and regarding her. She reaches out, curling her graceful head and neck about him and drawing him into her warm coils reassuringly, "It's all right, little fingerling, it's fine... you have a really fine grasp of the simple maths, after all, and complex maths aren't usually taught until adulthood anyway." Her long, warm tongue gently grooms his fur for a moment, and then she adds soothingly, "Don't feel bad, dearling. Let me just think for a moment." She goes back to thoughtfully grooming the little bat, her breath warm and a little smoky.

Finally she nods firmly after a moment, "All right, let's review what we have here. We have you with a very good grasp of the theory behind the simple maths, and you explain well... so worst comes to worst, even if something happens to me and the lamia, you can still teach that to the children. That's a good thing, right?"

Kerry feels a bit childlike in the drake's grasp, which doesn't fit well with his self-image, but he shakes his head to clear it and nods. "I would think so. I'd love to learn what I can, and I could certainly teach the introductory levels to earn my keep in the meantime."

The drake beams again, looking pleased, "Good for you! If you want, we can try teaching you the mental-state maths." She pauses, then adds, "I... cannot guarantee that you will grasp it, pretty chick, but we can definitely try. It will depend on you, of course."

Kerry skrees, "This is... not a surprise. Is it something that only those with the talent for magic can learn, or can people without the talent manage it as well sometimes?"

Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow smiles ruefully, "Believe me, Kerry-chick, I wish everyone that could grasp it could also do magic... but unfortunately no. As I told you and your friends earlier, I'm a grad student of mathematics... but not able to be a mage." She shrugs eloquently, the shrug rippling gracefully down her length, and adds, "Magery seems to favor humans, for some reason." She thoughtfully adds, "I wonder if that usefulness is what keeps them from being all eaten up by larger and more dangerous folk?"

Kerry chuckles. "Probably a compensation they have for being born with that disadvantage, yes."

The drake nods, then pauses a moment to lap up a bit of tea. When she turns back to Kerry she continues conversationally, "Well... no time like the present. Have you heard anyone speaking in subjunctive yet, here? Probably not, I'd guess, considering that the Sphynx doesn't favor it and the Fey Court politely stays away from the University area... but perhaps?" She tilts her head, regarding Kerry thoughtfully.

The bat looks serious again after a moment. "I'm not sure. The translators mangle things that aren't easily translated into my own languages. I doubt it. I'm glad that not only mages can learn the maths, though, since I have no idea if I have any magical talents either."

Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow nods again, "Quite all right. What is mostly of interest to us here is that there is everyday, 'common' language... and then there is subjunctive, the speaking of status." Neatly and warmly curled up into the drake's coils, Kerry can hear the inflections of her voice falling unwittingly into that same calm 'teaching tone' he heard from her earlier, "It uses the same words, it uses the same notation... but it is the framing of the words that denotes recognition and respect for status. Mathematica magika is similar, metaphorically speaking, in that it uses similar concepts and notations as the simple maths -- but intent is imperative in recognizing the magical premises, and mental state moves the formulas from steady... to something more -- into the magical realm of theory." She pauses, tilting her head to regard the little bat again, "Does this make sense, dear?"

Kerry nods. "Interestingly, I think it does. I read a book once -- well, books, actually -- where certain people learned the underlying mathematics of the universe and were able to overlay the existing equations with their own changes. Forcing the world to conform to the new mathematics. Something like that?"

The drake considers for a moment, idly (and carefully) rubbing her cheek along Kerry's side... then finally says slowly, "That... is sort of what I mean. Magic can't be 'forced' here, though... it is, at most demanding, petitioned. It is rather, um..." She pauses, considering how to phrase things, then continues carefully, "-it is like a headwind -- tricky, treacherous, and ultimately extremely picky about whom it will lift and who it will slam into the ground. The theories behind it are thus constantly a mental shifting as well -- if one is not adroit and athletic mentally, one cannot ride along. Er..." She looks a bit embarrassed, "I'm sorry, dearling... does that make sense, even though you're not solo-flying yet?"

Kerry chuckles. "Of course it does. I've been a solo-flyer for years, Dow. Just not on my own wings. I agree, the analogy wasn't exact. But something like that. The mathematics underlying the universe can be... surfed."

Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow looks pleased, "Exactly!" -- although Kerry's not precisely sure what 'surfed' was translated into -- "Well, in that case, dear chick, once we have you up to date on notation, would you like to try complex maths?" She nuzzles him affectionately, adding, "Even if you don't ever grasp it, dearling, you shouldn't feel bad... most sapients don't bother trying to learn it at all."

Kerry grins and nuzzles the affectionate dragon back. "I would consider it a challenge." He gets a devilish grin, pulling back enough to look up at her face. "And besides... I'm a Keero. We aren't most sapients."

The drake tilts her head to regard Kerry with an eye almost as large as his head... then smiles, "I'm not sure what a 'kee-roh' is, but anyone who's willing to at least try gets high marks on my branches, dear." She adds solicitously, "Are you tired or hungry? We could have a snack, then start you on notation right away, if you like? I don't have any classes today until afternoon."

Kerry thinks about it. "That's right, I don't think I ever mentioned that to you. I'm a Keero. That's what the bat-folk are called on my world. And I think a start on the notation would be fine if you're not busy... I'll keep you company if you're hungry, but I'm not that empty yet."

The young drake nods, "Perhaps a small snack for me, to keep my energy up, yes." She loosens her warm coils carefully, sliding him onto his own small feet and giving instructions, "Let's see, why don't you fetch out the third scroll in the, er... no, up one and over two... yes, that's it, thank you. I'll spread it out on myself, and you can get me a piece of jerky -- just climb over me there, by the ruby curlicue there? See the dried meat? Oh, and a fresh piece of chalk for yourself, and we'll be set..."

Kerry looks puzzled. "Umm... rubies are... red, right? That one?" At Dow's odd look, he tries again. "This one, maybe? I don't see colors, Dow. My vision is for nighttime..." He finally gets the right one by trial and error.

Dow is initially startled that her poor adopted chick has defective vision -- then apologizes once she realizes that's 'normal' for the (to her) strange 'kee-roh' folk. She settles on describing the pattern more than the color, to help him. Once he's dragged the piece of jerky free -- it's about the size of one of his wings -- she delicately lifts it out of Kerry's up-held hands, then chews thoughtfully as she carefully spreads the scroll out across several coils. She tucks the edges down under more coils, then forms a small seat with her folded-up tail, under her chin, so she and Kerry both can regard the scroll at the same time.

The rest of the morning is quietly productive, Kerry practicing the basic mathematical notation used here until it becomes almost as easy to use it as what he learned as a kit. Interesting. She did mention that Cat's people were involved in math -- and the Egyptians were instrumental in developing survey trigonometry in our world, too. These symbols look vaguely like Egyptian hieratic, I think. Have to check against what's in the data-pad.


Zildjian has invited the crew for a meal at the Egg, so they can all talk despite having been working on different things, and so that she can have a chance to talk to the others from "home." After the lunch Kawaii nudges Sakura several times and squeals for attention. Sakura scoops Kawaii up, "Hello, Kawaii!" She snuggles the piglet. "I've missed you, little one."

Kerry grins at the little piglet. "What's so urgent, Kawaii?"

Kawaii grunts contentedly several times, with a slightly blissful look... then remembers himself and sighs... then reluctantly squeals insistently. Douglas blinks a bit, looking to Kawaii. "Something's got him rather disturbed," he comments.

Kawaii wriggles until he's set back down. He steals a roll from the table, then trots towards the door, chewing busily. He pauses, looking over his shoulder, and grunts inquiringly? Douglas frowns a little, and starts to stand. "It looks like he'd like us to follow him..." Kawaii swallows, beams at Douglas, wriggles his tail, and trots over to the door itself, where he pauses and gruntgruntgrunts again.

Kerry skrees, "Well... I suppose we'd better see what he wants. We owe him a favor or ten, after all."

Sakura stands up and follows Kawaii out the door. She concentrates on his grunts, trying to figure out what he's saying, "We have to go see someone important..."

Kawaii looks relieved, and heads out the door. He trots along briskly, careful to circle around the group a couple of times any time it looks like he's pulling too far ahead. They recognize the path he's leading them along... it's the one on the way to the shuttle. Douglas looks to Sakura. "Someone important? Odd... I don't think we've forgotten anything..."

Kerry skrees, "Might be his own elders, or something like that."

Sakura shrugs a little. "I have no idea, Douglas. I'm curious."

Fall is well in progress, and the trees in the deep woods are all turning lovely colors. The sunlight is more muted this time of year, even though there are fewer leaves to shade -- it's the sheer size and thickness of the trees overshadowing that really darken the path early in the day. The wind is brisker too, with a bit of a nip to it. Sakura smiles at the falls leaves. That means Bandé and Aedaith might be coming back soon, for the Fall Gather...

Kawaii trots along happily enough for a while, then slows down and snuffles the wind carefully, as if searching for something. He walks slowly, still sniffing intently, for several minutes... then finally grunts to the crewmates, and heads off the path through the underbrush. Sakura says, "Oh, watch your heads, he says..."

Kawaii blinks over his shoulder at Sakura, then gives a pleased squeal and tail flick as he leads them along. Sakura ducks her head down and follows along with Kawaii... Douglas stops short just at the edge of the brush. "I hope we don't run into another vampiric azalea again," he murmurs, and nods to Sakura, following along after the piglet and being careful to watch his head. "When did you start being able to speak his language, Sakura-chan?" he asks conversationally.

Kerry shrugs and follows off the trail. The fall foliage colors mean nothing to his monochrome eyes, but he has always enjoyed the crisp air and smells of the season. The trail winds around confusingly, only about three or four foot high. It's like wandering down a crisply fall-scented, shadowed little tunnel. Sakura shrugs again at Douglas. "I haven't the faintest idea, Douglas... but if I really concentrate, sometimes I can understand." She grins.

Douglas chuckles softly. "It's your gift for language, maybe, Doctor?" he says. A bit later he looks a little discomfited, grimacing with being hunkered down for so long, and walking at the same time. He's crouched down almost back-breakingly low, and finally he just finds it easier to take one more step closer to his genetic heritage -- or maybe trollish future, remembering how Annifred did this once before, back with the will-o-wisps -- and drops almost to all fours. Once he does that, though, he blinks, sniffing audibly. "Hey... this ground smells a lot more like 'pig' than 'piglet'." He proceeds forward, rebuking the rumbling in his stomach... which disappears when he gets a closer look at the ground, so startled he almost stops short. "Oh, my..." He looks up at the trotting little piglet. "Judging by the size of these, er, hoof-prints... your, er, tribe makes use of this path fairly often, don't they, Kawaii?"

Sakura seems to be having a time of this walk. If it's not her ears catching painfully on something, it's her tail. She finally gives up and goes on all fours. A little less than dignified, but so were the hisses and ouches of pain!

Kerry is enough shorter than Sakura that he can keep from getting caught -- as long as he keeps his head down to keep his ears safe. In that position it's hard not to notice the tracks -- like Kawaii's, but much bigger. Not long after that, he recognizes the heavy breathing and grunting of the great forest boars. These might even be the same ones that helped with the water hag when they first arrived.

Kawaii grunts soft assent to Douglas, then turns and gives another cautioning series of grunts. He pauses... shivers slightly, then continues walking warily forward. Douglas frowns as he sees Kawaii's reluctance, but follows along after, trying to be whatever moral support a big cougar can be to a little piglet. Sakura says, "I'm not quite sure I caught that. Something about the huge, ancient forest boars. He's afraid of them... something about honor and... squishing things to eat?"

Kerry skrees, "That doesn't sound encouraging." Sakura decides that this is a good spot to stand up again, lest she be mistaken for squishy things to eat. She keeps her head down low and tries not to get caught up so much in the brush.

The increasingly darkening tunnel leads out to a small... not a clearing, since the leafy branches weave thickly over it, but a larger sort of outdoor room kind of place. Everyone can catch the heavy, musky scent of the boars now, and hear their heavy breathing and occasional quiet grunts. There are only two of them there, but they almost fill the space they're in. Kawaii steps in and bows his head respectfully, then grunts and squeals several times.

Douglas really does stop short and looks... slowly... to Sakura. Then, nonchalantly and calmly, he says, "Well... Pilot. Squishing bugs. You can deal with mashed locust, can't you." He starts back down the trail. "At least I hope that's what... they..." He stops, then slowly stands as they enter the enclosed area, "-meant," he finishes quietly. Seeing Kawaii bow, he quickly follows suit, bowing from the waist as he's seen Sakura do so before.

Sakura bows deeply to the forest boars... Kerry also bows in his own fashion. The giant boars are... impressive.

The smaller of the two boars is easily four feet at the shoulder. It watches with alert, wary eyes, slightly between the group and the larger boar, chewing on something absently. It has unusual markings on it, as if white mud had been smeared in a particular pattern along its sides. The other boar is immense... easily the hugest boar any of the crew have ever seen. Reclining, it is still almost four feet at the shoulder, and black as pitch but for the razor-sharp, curving ivory tusks.

When Kawaii finishes speaking, he falls silent and nervously tiptoes back to stand next to Sakura, who is trying not to gape -- and barely succeeding. The huge boar turns its heavy head and regards the group unblinkingly. There's a long moment of silence, broken only by heavy breathing and the rhythmic chewing of the standing boar. Kerry remains still and quiet, not even using ultrasound -- just in case they could hear it and be annoyed by it. Sakura watches the two of them as they move about... awed, and more than a little scared.

Sakura can feel the nervous twitching of Kawaii's tail against the back of her hock... and then the huge boar grunts once, and the other boar steps back. "Sah -- kyu -- raah." The voice is a deeply breathed basso profundo, but with an anomalously clear, almost sweet tone. It's almost startling to realize it issues from something that huge and coarse-bristled. "Approach."

Sakura takes a halting step... swallows and takes a couple more steps towards the boar. Douglas gulps, and tries to remain calm. Sure, his genetic ancestors wouldn't be frightened... oh, wait. Yes, they would be. He can't imagine anything less than a whole pack of wolves, much less any predator, taking down one of these boars. I've got to try to be calm, unafraid, as much as I want to. Let them take their time. Kawaii wouldn't take us here just to be squished. He's just... letting us meet his folks. yeah. That's it. How do you do, Mr. and Mrs. Kawaii. Gah, stop it, Doug. Just relax, don't be flippant and- He is almost literally struck dumb and stunned by the deep voice that utters their doctor's name, and the tone of the voice... his fear is replaced by a growing sense of awe.

The huge old boar breathes the nervous vixen's scent, then grunts softly, almost amusedly. It tilts its head to regard her and speaks again, in the human tongue, "The favor you owe to the Defenders of the Wood... we wish you as healer. When we have need... will you come?"

Sakura nods quickly. "Oh... yes sir... we owe you our aid and our gratitude... I'll help you in whatever way I can..."

Douglas blinks. Favor? Then, Of course. When they pulled us from the water-hag. Gosh, if they want to call in a favor, they can grab me anytime they want! After a moment, he realizes, Wait... they're speaking our language. They're speaking American!

Kerry is very impressed indeed. The huge boar can even speak the common language... no. The boar is communicating directly, either in spoken English or by some more esoteric means. He listens as their debt to the boars is called in...

The old boar nods once, turning his head to grunt at the other boar. It also nods, turning its head to pick something up, then steps over. That strangely sweet, deep voice again, speaking their own native language, "Accept our token, healer. My honor guard will escort you."

Sakura opens her hands to the other boar, to catch whatever it is that this "token" is... There's a leather thong hanging off one huge curving tusk, with what looks like a short, sharp ivory fang on it. Once Sakura has it, the smaller boar paces heavily next to the vixen to lead them out on a wider, easier path. Sakura puts the thong over her head and tucks it under her clothes to keep it safe. She follows the other boar out on the easier path...

Douglas gulps and bows one last time to the huge elder boar, then follows after Sakura, not saying a single word. At the edge of the forest the silent boar stops and watches them pass... then the shadows seems to simply drift about him, and he's gone.

Kerry bows again, and follows Sakura back to the trail. Once they are back again, he asks, "Want to replenish your medical supplies while we're this close?"




Last modified: 2001-Nov-20 20:10:17

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