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New Kids in Town

    In the days before the Gather, the word of the amazing and incredible things the heroes have done continues to spread, like wildfire. One morning, Douglas is woken up in the warm, safe confines of the trollhome in an unusual way. While he's grown quite used to, perhaps even fond of, the trolls and their cheerful morning brightness, it's not usually a small, red vixen who has snuggled up warmly with him, and is giggling cheerfully in his ear.

Douglas gives quite a start, and doesn't quite leap headlong out of wherever he's sleeping in; old habit -- well, relatively old habit... a habit he's developed from living in the trollhome -- keeps him from jumping out of the bedding, out of courtesy and politeness. This morning he doesn't have the luxury of musing that back on Earth the courteous and polite thing to do would be something completely different than what he usually does.

What he usually does is enjoy a few minutes -- okay, many minutes -- slowly waking up in warm and friendly company. What he does this morning is to jolt awake, ears flared, blinking sleep from his eyes as he tries to focus on the red-furred person. "Gurrruh...! Sakura?!" His mental kitten is only a little slower than he is, but comes awake enough at that little outburst to rebuke him shrilly. "Err... no... I mean..." He blinks again, and rubs his eyes. "Feina...?" She's the only other vixen he knows, and she might be the right size...

Feina snuggles up with Douglas, and nuzzles his cheek, giggling, "Nope!" at his first guess, and then saying, "Hi, nice cougar!" She sees no reason to move away from him and, in fact, continues being cuddly.

Douglas blinks, sleep finally falling from his eyes. He relaxes a little, letting out a breath. Okay, Doug... relax, now. It's just -- just! -- Feina. He lets out another breath, wondering what the heck was going through his mind to make him blurt out that first guess, and gives the little vixen a warm, friendly, and -- he hopes; to him Feina is almost like a younger sister -- brotherly hug. "Hello yourself, Feina," he says, smiling and tilting his head to the side. "What brings you here?"

Feina giggles and says, "My feet!" She cuddles up to Douglas, a hand gently exploring as she adds, "Asta told me your tail is growing back very well. Is it? Are you happy about that? Does it hurt?" She tries to peek over his shoulder and see.

Douglas blinks. Her... feet. What were her people called? The "Shy Folk"? Whomever came up with that moniker didn't know them too well, apparently... erp! He tries not to squirm under her hand, instead rolling lightly onto his tummy so the growing stub of his tail is visible. It's still a bit unpleasant to look at, lending him a vaguely rodent-like look with its furless length, but it's still short and tufts of fur are starting to grow on it. At least, he hopes that that was what Feina was looking for. "Oh, it is!" he says cheerfully, hopefully keeping any anxiety from his voice. "I'm very happy. I've gone without it for so long that I almost couldn't remember what it was like having it. I'll have to re-learn a lot of things, but that doesn't bother me at all. It doesn't hurt too much -- just a little tender, I guess. I try not to forget about it and whack it on anything."

Feina ooohs and very gently strokes the new tail, fingers barely brushing the sensitive skin. She is less gentle when she gets to the base, caressing idly some of the firmer muscle there and saying, "Mmm. That's nice, Douglas. I'm glad you're happy here." She beams and looks around, adding, "Although it's easy to like the trolls, as long as they remember to be gentle. They're fun."

Douglas twitches a little and is glad that Feina can't see the rather surprised and shocked look on his face when her hand starts drifting. "Ahh... oh, er, that's true, yes. It's been very fun, enjoyable being here with them. I've un-learned a lot, and learned a lot more. And... I'm very much happy here."

Feina says, "You're staying here now, right? I've been here a day or two and will be here another to make sure the troll skalds learn the ballad correctly and everyone can hear it at the Gather." Her hand doesn't stray far as she adds, "Maybe we'll have a chance to play too? Do you like vixens?" The fact that neither she nor Douglas is wearing anything is apparently not lost to her. She says as she strokes, "I guess I don't know because Aedaith said you and Sakura weren't lovers on your long trip out here and we all expected you to have been. She said it was weeks and weeks and that's no fun at all and maybe you don't like vixens?"

Douglas nods, smiling quietly. "I'll probably be staying here, yes." He sighs. "There's a lot we have to talk about, Captain and Sakura-chan and Pilot and myself, but I'd like to stay. I want to stay; I feel... at home here. This is my home, now." He blinks at the mention of the ballad, and his ear tips get pink as he smiles sheepishly. "Thank you again for that, Feina. You sang it very well indeed." And you embellished more than a bit too, but artistic license, after all. Anyway, in coming years, if we're lucky and it's still being sung, it'll probably be embellished even further. And who's to say that a 'typical' quest here wouldn't actually be as she said it was, albeit with magic and such? I'll have to ask Dr. Zil- uh... Zildjian... waitaminute...

Did she just say what I think she said?

She did...

Douglas can only blink at Feina for a few moments, her hand more-or-less completely forgotten. A few times he tries to form words, but no sound immediately comes out. "Ahh..." is what he finally manages. "Urr... I mean... that is..." He imagines that his ears are now rather red from blushing; his mental voice has already dropped its mental jaw and is mentally blinking.

He swallows a bit and coughs. "Ah... well... it's just... no, I've nothing against vixens, not at all, it's just... I mean... Sakura-chan was -- is -- was? -- is... on the same team, that is, we're co-workers... I guess..." He sighs, rests his head on his paws, and chuckles softly. "Sorry. I'm trying not to get all tongue-tied. The subject just never came up between us. Besides... where we come from, for two people on the same team or working-group... it just wasn't done." His ears and, for the first time, his tail twitch a bit uneasily. "It's... kinda complicated."

And besides, he thinks to himself, As fond of and as attracted to as I am of Sakura-chan, she's incredibly -- nay, stunningly taken a shine to Larrikan! He grins quietly and shakes his head. S'for the best. Though she's going to have her hands full if the rest of the 'Shy Folk' are anything like Feina and Larrikan! For the time being, he throws a pillow at his mind-kitten before it can say anything.

Feina grins and says, "Really? I thought it was usually pretty simple." She giggles at the blushing cougar, "You know, you can just say, 'No,' silly. Nobody will be upset if you do or if you don't." She looks up as she hears an instrument, and then singing a moment later. She listens carefully, wincing at the slightly off words, then says, "I guess I'd better go make sure they get this right. They don't like my cadences." She gives Douglas a quick peck on the cheek and scurries off, probably grabbing her light clothes on the way.

Douglas blinks to the vixen as she scurries off, then settles his head back on his paws. I wonder what she meant by that. He lets his mental kitten out from under the pillow, and after yowling in complaint at him for a moment, starts to think, think... and think a little more.

Kerry's been having regular lessons with Schnel'pkebaov'qkgard'dow, his new mentor. She's apparently more interested in teaching him mathematica majika, however, than flying. She sometimes takes him on cold and terrifyingly high flights, of course, carefully clutching Kerry in her curving claws, or with him clinging tightly to a wide, decorated leather collar she occasionally slips on around her neck. It's way up there in the cold winds of high altitude that Kerry can best appreciate how nice it is to be able to generate one's own internal heat -- when the drake blasts her bright tongue of fire at that height, her whole body warms up nicely, helping the tiny bat stay warm also.

Once she's so high even she is a bit chilled, the drake drops him -- for gloriously freeing, long, drifting glides downwards, that leave him elated and even more determined to fly under his own power... but the two of them usually spend far more time curled up in her nest-niche home, sipping hot, sweet-smelling tea and discussing the (apparently tenuous) nature of reality.

Dow is affectionate, warm, cuddly, and very thoughtful to her adopted "chick." She seems genuinely fond of him, making sure that she has the diminutive treats that are sized for him, to hand (or claw) for when she feels he's done particularly well. Admittedly, she finds his firm insistence on logic uber alles a bit bemusing, but she continues to talk patiently with him, questioning him in what he recognizes as classic Socratic methodology... except that her questions don't always seem to have only logical answers -- at least, apparently not to her way of seeing it. Kerry's not quite sure yet what she's expecting... but he can easily tell she is neither discouraged nor unhappy with him. If anything, she seems to take great pleasure in the conversations they have, and to look forward to them.

It is late afternoon, almost early evening, and a day or two before the Gathering. The crew of the Indigo is slowly starting to collect at the Silver Egg for their usual meal together. As Annifred precedes Douglas through the Egg's door, her tail loosely and companionably entwined about one of his wrists, the big cougar happens to notice a bit of traffic -- somewhat unusual at this hour, considering most folk are heading indoors for food. It's a small, horse-drawn cart coming towards the Egg at a brisk trot, and one of the two individuals seated on the front waves energetically upon spotting someone in the street at the Egg's entrance. She calls out to him and the others with him, "Halloa! Is there a healer anywhere nearby?"

Sakura perks up at this, looking at the occupants of the cart. Douglas blinks, pausing at the doorway at the call. He looks quickly inside for Sakura, then turns to the cart. "There's a healer about, I think!" he calls out, and looks around again. "Sakura-chan...?"

    Douglas Percival is a cougar, tall and with the sandy brown fur of all cougars, with the somber features and digitigrade legs common to that ilk. He stands a good seven feet tall, and yet is only somewhat solidly built; there is the slightest of indications in his build that, some time in the past, he wasn't exactly in the best of shape. Another unusual feature of his is the lack of a swishing tail, or rather more than just the barest stub of one. And he wears little in the way of clothing: a sort of plain tan skirt or kirtle which falls somewhere between 'knee-length' and 'mini,' and seems to afford him some modicum of modesty and freedom of movement; and a shirt, short-sleeved and somewhat midriff-baring, of the same material but trimmed with bright and exuberant embroidery. His legs and feet are bare, but he appears to walk unconcerned about that lack.

Sakura waves. "I'm a healer..." She jogs over to the cart.

    Sakura is a small fox; she doesn't stand more than five feet tall and is fairly slender. Her fur has a red cast to it, offset nicely by the white that runs under her muzzle and down her throat. Her tail is full and tipped with white, and she carries it in close to her body. Her hair is black and pulled into a French braid, and she wears a lovely, beribboned, flowing dress that looks almost as if it's made of nothing more than dreams and cobwebs. Her mannerisms are careful, almost as though she's nervous about the way she acts towards other people.

The little cart pulls up to the inn, the horse panting slightly. The non-driver is the woman who called out, and she says anxiously to Sakura, "You are a wise woman? I... didn't know the Shy Folk had any...?" The man pats her hand lightly, "Don't push it, Hulen -- she should know herself if she's a healer or not." He smiles to the vixen and turns on the seat towards the back of the cart, "We met this fellow on the road today, wise woman, on the way here."

Sakura walks to the side of the cart and peeks into it. She smiles. "You look as comfortable as you can possibly be. What did you do to yourself, Sir?"

There's a man in the back of the cart, probably a farmer by his dress, with a tight, worn look to his face, holding his knee. He grins weakly at Sakura, "Afternoon, kind lady... think I did something to my knee..."

The horse snorts softly, nudging Douglas gently in the chest. The crewmates can see this is a nice little cart loaded with goods, probably for the Gather. The woman is watching Sakura worriedly, but the man says companionably, "Afternoon. I'm Strander, and this is Hulen... we're up from the Library at Alexandria for the Gather. Appreciate your helping this fellow."

Douglas erfs a little with the horse's nudge and grins to it, not showing his teeth. While Sakura tends to the wounded guy, he rubs the horse a bit along the side of its neck. Sakura grabs a pair of scissors from her medical kit and cuts neatly along the seam of the pants so she can get a look at the knee. She takes a look, "Well, that had to hurt... but there is some hope! I've not had a patient die yet from a knee injury, so there's a small chance that you won't either." She grins at him.

The woman looks more worried, but the sturdy farmer just grins. Sakura smiles, "All right, sir. I'm going to need you to grab onto the side of the cart and hold on tight. I'm afraid this is going to hurt a little bit, but it will feel better almost as soon as I'm done, I promise."

The farmer nods once, his face tightening slightly, and carefully grabs each side of the small cart. The man and woman both watch silently and with great interest. Sakura hops lightly into the back of the cart and takes a hold of the man's ankle gently. She braces herself and attempts to pop the knee back into place.

Douglas glances at the cart as he makes friends with the horse, his ears perking a little. The cart is of very high workmanship. Excellent choices of wood planks -- no knots or burrs, no odd little bits from a branch that had been in the way when cutting the wood. He frowns a little... in fact, even the knotting seems symmetrical, if such a thing can be. Obviously this is not a cheap conveyance! He looks up to the farmer -- Strander, he said his name was -- and smiles, again without showing his teeth. "It's a very fine cart you have, Sir, The workmanship's excellent." Maybe it'll distract the husband and wife from what Sakura-chan is doing.

The man glances at the cougar once, then blinks and looks again with a smile, "Well, thank you!" Douglas glances out of the corner of his eye at the man as he grabs hold of the sides of the cart. Even more than just 'excellent workmanship.' He must have a death-grip on that but it's not creaking or groaning at all. Magic? Gosh, I'd not be one to tell, and I don't want to give them the impression I'm casing their cart to steal it!

Sakura pops the knee back into place with a sound that would probably be audible if not for the yell the man makes... which quickly turns into a sigh of relief. She wraps the knee up. "Now, you'll have to keep it wrapped and be careful, might want to stay off your feet for a day or two, then just be gentle as it heals."

The farmer grins in relief at the vixen, "Thank ye kindly, ma'am, I'll do so!"

The man looks at the bat, then the cougar, and asks curiously, "Uh... where are you all from? You're certainly... unusual...?"

Kerry grins and lets go of the branch he's been hanging from, backwinging gently to the ground. "It's a long story, and hardly anyone believes it." The horse snorts explosively, backing hastily away from the dark, flappy thing coming at him!

    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.

Doug blinks up to the man and this time does smile, nodding. "We've been told that quite a bit, actually. We're travelers, Sir. We only came to Karlstrasse about half a year -- urrf! Whoa! Whoa, guy...!" That's what you're supposed to say when a horse starts doing what you don't want it to, I think?!

Sakura smiles at the man. "I think you'll find your knee is just fiiIIII-WhOA..." She nearly falls over on the man, but manages somehow to keep her balance.

The horse calms once Kerry's not flapping near him any more. Doug's steady hand on the reins doesn't hurt any either. The woman puts a quick hand out to help catch Sakura, then smiles when it's not needed. Curiously she says, "I've never seen that, er... trick with the knee here, wise woman. May I ask where you learned it?"

Sakura blushes a little. "I picked it up when I was being trained."

Kerry backs off quickly as the horse reacts, and apologizes. "Terribly sorry. I didn't know he'd do that. I'm not really used to horses." He grins at Sakura's noncommittal answer to the question. Sakura hops out of the back of the wagon, lest Kerry force her to perform first aid on herself... that just wouldn't do before the Gather!

The woman, Hulen, glances for a long moment at the man... then he nods to her. He smiles at the small group, "Well, can you tell us where we might stay for the night, or even just get some food?" He gestures up at the shiny shuttle, "That... er... do you know what that is?" He adds a bit dubiously, "Is it... safe?"

Kerry grins. "That's the Silver Egg, it's quite safe -- the tree's dryad holds it up there -- and it's an inn."

Douglas blinks to the man, then looks up to the Egg. "The Silver Egg? Oh, definitely, it's perfectly safe! Highly recommended, too."

The two newcomers stare up at the Egg in fascination... then the woman hops down, "Strander, I'll help the farmer in. You take the horse and cart around back... they probably have a stables." Kerry blinks at a thought and dashes inside ahead of the arrivals to warn Zildjian... librarians might just react to her the way the Aztekans did to him.

The woman follows Kerry in closely, helping the farmer limp inside. Chattily she says to Sakura, "So what wise woman did you train with, if I ma-" She cuts off in startlement, staring at the huge gold lamia leaning to listen to Kerry's whispering. A moment later she breathes, "Whoa... who's that?! What an... unusual symbol on her shirt!"

    The first impression she gives is of gold... golden-tanned skin, a thick, short mane of wiry, bright sun-gold hair, golden pupils with slitted black irises; even her lips and fingernails have a dusty gold hint to them. Her movements are sinuous and carefully articulated, as if she's always precisely aware where every inch of her 20 or so foot length of reptilian tail is. From the waist up she's human enough, however, wearing a wide-necked, neatly cropped tank top with 'UTA' emblazoned across the front, and a curiously engraved and decorated leather armband on her upper left arm. The sole jarring notes are her odd, slightly dusty scent -- and a long, jagged white scar slashing across her slender throat; a relatively fresh remain of a recent wound.

Sakura says, "That's Zildjian. She's wonderful..."

Hulen nods in slow fascination, then smiles a little worriedly at the vixen, "Er... could you introduce us? Ah... I take it you, she, and the bat... and the cougar? -all came here together?" She adds, almost under her breath, "Are there any others?!"

Douglas has let Strander take care of the horse and cart -- he'd know how to best handle horses, after all. He blinks, though, at Hulen's exclamation. "She manag- er, runs the Silver Egg with Aykuh the dryad. The symbol... erm, I believe that's where she went to school..." He blinks. "Ah... we didn't, actually... she came here first. We'll be glad to introduce you, though!"

The woman says faintly, "There're... more!?"

Kerry returns from warning Zil. "And an armadillo. He's out hunting, though. Zildjian is from the same place we come from, but she arrived earlier than the rest of us."

Sakura smiles, "Sure. Douglas, Kerry, Zildjian... these nice folk would like a proper introduction."

The farmer, recognized by several of the folk that regularly gather for dinner here, is helped to a table and presented with food. Hulen blanches slightly and sits down abruptly on the nearest bench. She murmurs softly, "Oh my god..."

Kerry nods and waves a wing for Zil to come over if she has a moment. "Glad to oblige."

Zildjian slithers over and looks down at the woman with concern, "Are you all right? Would you like a drink?"

Sakura says, "Hulen, Strander... meet Douglas, the cougar; Kerry, the bat; and Zildjian, the lamia! Douglas, Kerry, Zildjian. This is Hulen and Strander..." She smiles at them. "I'm Sakura..."

Douglas blinks. "Er... more?" Something about this isn't meshing well. "Well, there's another who's currently with the hunters; that would be Vashti..." Then he blinks at her reaction. This couldn't... no, she wouldn't dare pull a stunt like that. No, it's not Laws. But she's had an unusual reaction... He smiles to the woman, nodding and again not showing his teeth. "Pleased to meet you, Madam."

The woman collects herself and stands, politely greeting everyone, "Pleasure to meet you all. Strander is my companion -- he should be in, in a moment." A moment later the man enters, and is introduced as well. He also goes a little wide-eyed at the lamia.

Douglas' ears flick slightly and he nods, smiling to her. No, it doesn't sound like Laws' voice at all, actually. That's a relief, that would have made for an awful opportunity to make what Tammy back in college would call 'a gross social error.' He greets the man as he enters as well, and asks, "I'm sorry, you both seem a bit distraught. Are you all right?"

Zildjian smiles at them both, careful not to accidentally pop her fangs at them, and makes sure they're both settled with food and drink. The man grins a little forcedly, taking the woman's arm and almost directing her to the table Zil's setting up for them, "Fine, fine! Just... tired, yes, long trip! Don't mind us..." The two settle down at the table, talking quietly but animatedly to each other as they eat.

Kerry nudges Doug as the newcomers wander off after Zildjian. "Remember what Zil told us about the local lamia? They're honored immortal scholars, and here she is tending bar. The poor folks are in shock."

That's almost so verbatim from a dozen college comedy skits that Douglas practically sighs out loud. Instead he nods quietly, smiling to them. "Certainly, if you need anything..." He settles into the table with the others, and nods quietly to Kerry. "True," he says softly, "I'd almost forgotten that. They're probably at least as in shock as Kualkan was at discovering you weren't an Aztekan priest."

Zildjian grins ruefully as she slithers past a moment later, murmuring, "Tourists... they always stare..." She grins at the crewmates, "So... you guys hungry too? Saved a table for you."

Sakura grins, "I wouldn't have thought so before you mentioned it, but come to think of it, I am hungry."

Douglas says, "Oh, thank you, Zildjian! I think we all are..."

Zildjian has hot food and big mugs set before the group almost at once... as if she were, in fact, saving them. She grins happily at the group, "Yell if you need anything!" then goes back to work in the comfortably crowded bar.

Kerry blinks at something, and turns back to look at the newcomers. "Just a minute... I'll be right back." He gets up again and drifts quietly in their direction.

Douglas blinks as Kerry stands. "Pilot, what are you doing...?" He grimaces a little as the Keero disappears into the crowd, but relaxes as the two Alexandrians seem to be relaxed towards him. "Oh, well," he says, smiling quietly. Then he smiles softly to Larrikan as he arrives, cheerfully greeting the shy folk -- er, shy person. Who is anything but.

Larrikan brightens when Sakura comes in, and settles next to her at the table, curling up close about her and mumbling, "I heard you saved the day again." He beams at her.

Sakura blushes, "I didn't save the day... I just... did my job. Really, it was no big deal, Larrikan."

Larrikan snorts, then asks, "You ask that farmer if being lame isn't a big deal," then sips from his drink, content to be warm and close to the wonderful vixen. Sakura takes a few bites of her food, leaning against Larrikan as she eats...

The two Alexandrians cut off their conversation when they notice the bat approaching. The woman smiles, "Thank your companions for us, please, for their help for that poor farmer?"

Kerry smiles. "That's no problem. Sakura is always happy to help, and you did a good deed yourself bringing him along." He lowers his voice. "But you really shouldn't expect not to be overheard by a Keero. More properly, I should have been introduced as Colonel Kerry Skydancer, retired from the United States Aerospace Force..."

The two Alexandrians look at each other... then at the bat, smiling. Hulen says politely, "It's very nice to meet you, sir. Perhaps we could talk together later?" She looks around at the crowded, noisy bar, then grins ruefully at the bat again, her voice pitched to a lower, more conspiratorial tone, "Someplace more... private?"

Kerry grins. "Indeed." He quickly turns serious, even grim. "I did want to warn you, though -- if you sent any humans to Mexico or South America, tell them to pull out immediately. The local gods there -- and gods seem to be quite real here -- eat human sacrifices. Our world lost a mission there."

The man nods thoughtfully, "Hm... all of them? None left behind?" He thinks a moment, then adds worriedly, "How many missions have there been so far?"

Kerry skrees, "All the humans, yes. One canine Uplift survived, though the shock drove him mad. The lamia is the only one left of the second mission, and we're the third, though from a different nation on our Earth. If you need a radio, our shuttle is a few miles south of town, and Zildjian's, in the shuttle parked in the tree, is still operational too. If you'll excuse me, I need to get back to my companions... you're welcome to join us if you want."

Strander nods gravely -- then blinks at Kerry's comment, his eyes widening slightly. Hulen says with a bit of wistfulness, "I wish... may I see your genetics? Perhaps we could go to the barn, so my instruments don't give us away?" She smiles a bit shyly, "You and your companions are... quite new to me."

Kerry grins. "After dinner, if you want. Our world went in for genetic engineering more than most, I gather. C'mon over, and I'll introduce you properly." He waves a wing in the direction of their group, then heads back to the others. "Sorry about that... I thought I heard them say something, and I wanted to check before I made a fool of myself. It is Dr. Laws."

Hulen starts to put a fascinated hand out towards the bat -- then looks very disappointed as he walks away. The two Alexandrians look at each other bemusedly... then the woman grins and shrugs, and rises to follow the bat.

At the other table, Sakura looks startled, "What?"

Douglas is drinking from his mug... then pauses, blinking at Kerry, and sets the mug down slowly, frowning. "They... they are? I mean, she is?" He stops himself from glancing towards them, and drops his voice quickly. "We'll need to tell Captain immediately..." He blinks, looking up at the humans as they approach, then looks between Kerry, looking really startled, his ears -- and tail, though he doesn't realize it -- twitching nervously.

Part of Doug's nervousness arises from discomfort at them being other starfarers -- or rather, other Gatefarers. Something in him has been looking at getting back in touch with all that high technology and spacecraft and nuclear reactors and Gatedrives with some trepidation -- and here it is, in his face. More than that, he realizes, these are not Crossroads humans. Crossroads humans, at least, barely blink at them, and just accept the differences. These... they're if anything more alien than the Crossroads humans, but at the same time too familiar-seeming. They'd be of the same time period as the humans back on Earth -- the humans who have considered the uplifts second-class citizens for a hundred years.

Douglas takes in a breath. Maybe they'll be different, he thinks. Maybe they're really travelling the Gates for the benefit of their world. Maybe the 'Federated Civilizations' or whatever she says she's from is benevolent. I want to believe that... forgive me for not being able to right away. He nods quietly in re-greeting, still a bit stunned. What weapons did you build to fight your Third War? he can't help but think at them, perhaps a bit uncharitably.

Hulen smiles shyly at the group, catching Kerry's words as she approaches, "Hello- er, no."

Kerry blinks. "No? But you're with her, correct?"

Hulen holds a hand out to Sakura to shake, and smiles at the small group, "How're you? I hope we can work together in the future. I think our groups could benefit greatly by helping each other." Sakura shakes Hulen's hand...

Kerry makes the more formal introductions. "Dr. Sakura Murasaki, our medical officer -- Douglas Percival, our engineer. Captain Vashti Ramos Montoya isn't here at the moment. The lamia is Dr. Zildjian Sidhe of the Texas Confederacy; the rest of us are from the United States." Sakura's eyes widen when Kerry mentions the US... Hulen listens carefully, nodding politely to each person as she's introduced to them. Kerry skrees, "Larrikan of the Shy Folk and Annifred of the Broken Horn Trollhome come from the local area."

The woman blinks, studying the dog fox, then takes a slow breath, "Ah... local sweeties, yes?" She smiles at Sakura, "You must be qui-" She goes still, thinking furiously for a moment, then goes pale as she says slowly, "You. You guys... you're the local Heroes!" Hulen sits down abruptly again, muttering, "Oh my god!" again.

Sakura sits down heavily next to Larrikan, mind racing. Oh, dear god... what did he tell them? Douglas blinks at the woman's reaction, and looks sharply between Sakura and Kerry, still a bit too stunned for words. Kerry blinks again. "Umm... how'd you hear about that? It's exaggerated anyway; we had to retrieve our shuttle, is all."

The woman stares at Kerry, her mouth hanging open for a moment, then says incredulously, "How could we not have heard it?! The Song is on everyone's lips!" She opens her mouth to say something else, then gets a stunned look again, "Oh my god -- the shirts! We thought they were local... oh my god!"

Douglas blinks at Kerry, his jaw dropping, and his mouth starts looking like he's subtly trying to find the right words in the right tone and hurriedly enough. Kerry would roll his eyes, except that they're pure black and no one ever notices it. "That's the Captain's fault. He was wearing the silly thing when we got shanghaied down here in the first place, and the locals started emulating it when we were acclaimed as Heroes."

Douglas glances to Hulen -- or maybe it's properly spelled 'Helen?' -- and shifts a little guiltily at her reaction. I imagine we've done the anthropological equivalent of dumping a hundred pounds of various and sundry impurities into the pouring basin for a steel ingot press... His ears flick slightly. "It's not like we planned on getting pulled down," he murmurs sharply, discomfited.

Kerry skrees, "That's for damn sure. We were on a photographic pass when we were grabbed out of orbit. We certainly weren't planning to land here." He grins a little sheepishly. "Well, we weren't planning to land quite so soon, at least."

Annifred grins toothily and squeezes Douglas, saying, "Ja, they heroes! Kill Drekaris, free Hunt, find lost labyrinth, save trolls." She beams and says, "Trolls offer let Douglas join clan, very pleased he did. We very proud of cougar. They real heroes." Douglas erps! and can't help but smile sheepishly at Annifred's exuberance.

Sakura squeezes Larrikan's hand. "Let's go, Larrikan... I'm feeling very ill all of a sudden."

Hulen just listens, pale and wide-eyed, to Annifred's listing of heroics. Finally she pulls herself together and smiles shakily, "Ah... that's... very impressive, yes! Um... would you all excuse me, please? I've had a um... very long journey here, and I'm quite tired." Her glance at the vixen is surprisingly sympathetic... she rises and almost totters back to her table.

Larrikan looks surprised, "What happened? Something you ate?" but does willingly go with Sakura.

Douglas glances to Sakura. "Are you all right, Sakura-chan?" Sakura pulls Larrikan out of his seat as she stands and almost rudely -- a first for her! -- leaves the table without a backwards glance at anyone but Douglas, who she smiles apologetically at. Larrikan goes with Sakura, looking concerned for his lady.

Kerry is torn between concern for Sakura and suspicion at the fake Alexandrians. He murmurs, "Well, we contaminated their little sociological study for fair. I wonder how upset they'll be. I do hope they didn't send anyone into Azteka, though."

Douglas blinks, his ears perked worriedly -- well, more than they were -- and chews his lip, raising a paw to her as she departs. He swallows a bit, then looks around quickly. "We need to talk to Captain. Now. I wonder, when do the hunters get back in?"

The woman talks rapid-fire to the man for several minutes, the both of them giving occasional shocked looks at the Indigo's crew. They both look rather shaken by the time she's done, sitting silently for a long moment. Finally the two of them rise, leaving much of their food uneaten, and walk out hastily together.

Kerry shrugs. "That depends on how good the hunting has been. We'll see when they get here... uh-oh..."

Douglas glances up as the two depart. "I have a bad feeling about this," he murmurs. He looks down at his plate and lets out a breath. "I don't feel hungry, but I don't want to waste this..." He starts to dig in as best as he can.

Kerry sighs, and starts eating as well. "I had no idea they'd react that badly... but what was I supposed to do? Let them send people into Azteka?"

Douglas looks up to Kerry, chewing the... he's not sure what it is, but it's good. He swallows, shaking his head. "I don't know. I guess... I'd hoped that we could approach Laws' people on our own terms. Learn more about them first. When you told us who they were, the first thought in my mind was wondering what weapons they used in their Uplift War." He sighs and reaches over to the mug, then more or less downs the entire contents.

Kerry pauses at a thought. "I don't recall seeing any rowan on them. If they've not been down long... uh-oh. Remember what happened to Vash the first night?" He sighs. "Better warn them, I guess... don't let them steal my plate, Doug..." He gets up and heads for the door after the two humans.

Douglas blinks. "Warn them? Warn them about what?"

Kerry looks back over his shoulder. "About the redcaps." Douglas blinks, then makes a small 'Oh!' sound, looking very much torn for a moment... then nodding quickly. Kerry heads out the door into the night, looking around for the humans.

Douglas frowns slightly after Kerry leaves, then shakes his head. "And if the redcaps found them..." He glances to Annifred, standing. "Not for nothing, but Pilot might find the humans being harassed by redcaps. I'll go out with him. Shan't be long, I think, if we're lucky."

Annifred says, "Ja, that bad. They find bat, that bad for all. We go find. Moment, ja?" She finishes off her bowl of stew, and has a healthy swig of her drink. Grabbing a roll, she says, "Okay. We go, ja?"

Douglas nods, smiling to Annifred. "Ja," he agrees quietly.

    Blue's bedroom is the upper story, with steeply angled sides, and only a little really useful space in the center. The low edges of the room are filled with a couple of dressers and bookshelves. At the far end of the room from the door to the landing, a window and a couple of dormers let cool, bluish moonlight in. The bed, a low, futon-like pad covered with a plethora of pillows and a somewhat disarrayed tangle of quilts, is also at the far end. A slanted desk and chair are closer to the door, the walls nearby covered with bits of artwork and drawings Blue has done, or is referring to for current projects.

Vash knocks softly on the door before poking in his head. "Hey, Blue?" he calls out softly in the dark. "Anyone home?"

Vash can see, for a moment, Blue against the moonlit window. He hears her quiet, happy laugh as her silhouette shows her head turning, dropping her drawing pad -- then he hears a small, pattering rush of movement, and she's hugging him close, "Vashti-love! I was hoping you'd come back before I went to sleep!" She leans against him warmly for a moment... then steps back to light a candle, "Come in! Have you eaten yet tonight?"

Vash smiles and hugs Blue tightly, picking her up and turning her once. "Ah, I'm glad I caught you... yes, I ate with the other hunters when we got back into town." He deposits her gently back on the ground again, leaning to kiss her softly, then stretches a bit. "Mm. It's been a long day... it's good to be back. Did I interrupt you?"

Blue giggles delightedly at Vash's hug, then tugs gently at his hand so he'll come sit with her on the futon, "No... I was just playing with how light trickles through the trees..." she waves a hand at the sketchpad, which has a lot of almost incomprehensible charcoal lines drawn on it, and adds with a rueful smile, "-and as you can see, it isn't gelling yet, unfortunately." She nudges the pad off the futon with a toe, then floompfs down on it and grins up at him, her eyes sparkling in the candlelight, "So how was your day?" She adjusts her oversized soft flannel shirt a bit, since it's all she's wearing, and curls her bare legs up to make space for him, patting the futon next to her.

Vash smiles and pauses to carefully untie the knot he keeps his sword tied on with, setting it and the sash aside, then sits down next to her on the edge of the futon, pulling off his black shirt. He runs a hand down one of his arms, then the other, eyeing the scars and markings critically in the dim light. He shrugs, rolling his shoulders. "Not bad. The hunt's going well so far. I don't think we're going to be needing for much over the winter." He grins, leaning back on his elbows. "It's definitely tough work. Oh!" He sits up quickly, fishing a small object from a fold of the fallen sash. "I brought you something." In his talons he has a small blue flower, "We passed through a field full of these. I've never seen any this tonal shade before."

Blue oohs, leaning over to gently investigate the small flower. She sniffs it carefully, then touches it gently with a finger tip, "It's so pretty, Vashti... I don't recognize it immediately, though." She flashes a grin at him as she scrambles quickly to her feet, "Hang on! I'll get a mug of water, to keep it fresh, so I can look it up tomorrow!" She trots quickly out of the room... and a moment later comes back in with a mug. She settles the flower carefully in the mug on her desk, then settles next to him and gives him a kiss on the cheek. She curls her arms around his and leans her head against his shoulder, murmuring, "I'm glad the town will be all right for the winter."

Vash mms and nods, "Me too. It's one less thing to worry about." He settles back again on his elbows, turning to gently return the kiss. He doesn't say anything for a long moment, just enjoying the peace and quiet... then he glances down at the shirt in his lap. The Jolly Roger grins back up at him. At length he says, "Hey... Blue? Y'know... I've been seeing a lot of shirts like mine around town. Not that I'm upset or anything but... why?"

Blue giggles, sitting up and running an almost proudly possessive hand lightly across the shirt, "Isn't it nice? They see you're a Hero, love... they want to share in your bravery. The first one came to me and asked if he could have the honor of a similar shirt because he assumed I'd made it. So I got Stuart to help... and every time someone asks for one, we make one!" She smiles with a quiet, almost glowing happiness at Vash, "They really respect you, love." A moment later she adds impishly, "-as well they should!" She giggles softly again and lays down next to him, resting her head on his stomach so she can look at him. Softly she says, "Do you like them? Did I do your sigil right?"

Vash smiles a little, and gently brushes the hair back from Blue's forehead. "It's funny, you know? I just brought this shirt with me because... well, for no reason, really. And I happened to be wearing it when the shuttle was brought down. Back where I come from... a long, long time ago, pirates on the ocean would run up this symbol on their flags. And now people here equate it with... heroes. Just because I picked up this shirt that morning."

Blue listens thoughtfully... then smiles, "Heroism is like that, I've heard -- full of moments of serendipity." She grins a little shyly, "Like the first time I saw you... I'd just gotten a brand new sketchpad, all full of clean white paper. I was going to take it home for something really different, really special." She pauses, thinking, then grins slowly, "I... guess I did save it for something special, actually -- I filled it with sketches of you and your team!" She adds firmly, "And obviously the sigil wanted to be redeemed!"

Vash smiles sheepishly. "Heh. I guess it did... and there are stories about heroes that wore the skull and crossbones. I guess I'm just the latest... I don't mind. If I'm going to be a hero, at least I'm in good company." He smiles, "Speaking of heroes... maybe soon I'll be able to read you a couple of the stories I brought back from the ship with me. I'm sorry they're all in Home English... I haven't had a chance to find someone to help me transcribe them yet."

Blue grins calmly, unsurprised to hear (at least to her way of seeing things) that the sigil wanted redemption at her sweetheart's home also. She nods at the offer to read to her, "I'd like that. You have a nice voice for listening to... and I can understand you just fine, even if I can't read your native tongue." She pauses a moment, then slides the T-shirt out from under her head, and holds it up, to regard it in the flickering candlelight. She smiles... then glances up at Vash again, adding a little hesitantly, "Um... Vashti-love... would you mind if I, ah... if I made one for me too?" Hastily she adds, "I'd be very careful to be brave, and not dishonor your sigil while wearing it, I promise?"

Vash grins. "Sure, Blue... if you want to. I don't mind at all."

Blue beams delightedly, rolling over enough to throw an arm across his stomach and hug him, "Thank you, love!"

Vash grins a little, hugging gently. "Don't mention it." He quietly hopes to himself that the dim light hides the blush. "Oh, um... what did you think of the other book? The one with the, er, illustrations?" He finds that he can't think of a more oblique way to phrase the question, considering the subject matter.

Blue happily hugs him back, looking very pleased at the prospect of a 'sigil shirt' of her own. A moment later she sits up and carefully folds Vash's T-shirt to set aside. Then she lies back down, curling warmly up against him and resting her head on his stomach again. Her voice is a little wistful, "Oh... they were such odd, pretty pictures! Were they from the Raj kingdoms? That's what they looked like... such beautiful princesses, dressed in wonderful clothes and jewels..." A little hesitantly she adds, "Um... are there many princesses where you come from?" Blue looks around her small, cluttered room, one hand brushing back her hair a little self-consciously, then gives Vash a slightly worried, sideways glance.

Vash smiles again and lies back. He folds one arm behind his head, looking up at the ceiling, but focusing on something far beyond. "No... not anymore. Things where I come from are a lot like I guess they are in Nippon here, now. There aren't many princesses anymore. There aren't very many kingdoms at all. Money's really what rules, now. That's why they sent us here. Trade routes." He sighs a little. "But, yeah, I guess that you could say they came from the Raj Kingdoms... except on the world I'm from, they call it India. At least, that's what they call it in the language I speak." He tilts his head a little. "Is something wrong?"

Blue smiles a little puzzledly, "Um... what's money? Or... who?"

Vash hehs. "No, you got it right the first time. It's a what. It's... well, nobody barters anymore where I come from. Everyone just sort of agrees that these little tokens are worth a certain amount, and they're guaranteed by the government to be worth something. So people trade these tokens for things they need, instead of other things. It sounds pretty simple, but we've managed to make it really, really complicated." He sighs again. "Really complicated."

Blue's mouth forms a small 'oh' of incomprehension. She thinks about that for a moment, then says puzzledly, "But why don't they ju-... oh, right. Didn't you say your world had no magic?" She shakes her head slowly, "Poor people... no wonder the magic fled." Her face is still for a moment as she tries to imagine a world without magic... then she remembers his other question and blushes faintly, "Oh! I uh... nothing's wrong, love, I just... well..." Her sideways gaze is a little sheepish, a little anxious, "I um... was wondering why you showed me those pictures... if those were the kind of women you preferred...? I..." she sounds apologetic, "I... don't have um... any fine clothes like that, or lots of jewelry, Vash... I'm sorry... I'm just a farmer's daughter, I'm afraid?" She adds a bit nervously, "I... thought you knew that...?"

Vash sits up, "Oh! No! No, that's not what I meant at all!" He starts a little, surprised, "No, no, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you think that..." He trails off a little, sheepish, "...I'm sorry. No, um... well.. look. I know that you and I can't... we can't.. I mean, I can't give you children. And, um.. well... I figured if nothing can come of it, well, at least it should still be fun to do. I just... didn't want you to get bored." Vash adds, "I know how ridiculous that must sound."

Blue says softly, "You mean I can't have children with you. I know that, love." As he sits up, she slides suddenly down his front with a startled squeak, catching herself and sitting up also to listen to the rest of what he has to say... with a look of growing incomprehension, "Um... I don't... you're worried about boredom?" At his last comment she shakes her head firmly, putting a hand on his thigh, "No! No, you're not ridiculous, love -- I just... um..." she thinks for a bit, then says confusedly, "Er... am I not making love interestingly enough, or something? C-could you try explaining again, please?"

Vash blushes brightly. "N-no! I mean, of course not, you're-" He catches himself and just sighs, shaking his head and chuckling to himself. "I've really messed this up. No, Blue, it was me I was worried about. I just thought... there might be something fun to try in there. That's all." He grins lopsidedly. "Maybe I should have just said that at the start."

Blue listens intently and watches closely, nodding once or twice, trying to figure things out... then thinks for a few moments, her face quiet in the candlelight. Vash can see when revelation hits her -- her eyes widen, she gets an astonished look, and she says slowly, "Vashti-love... you were worried I'd get bored? With you?!"

Vash grins sheepishly, "Well, I hoped you wouldn't... but never hurts to play it safe."

Blue laughs delightedly, her eyes shining in relief, and almost pounces into his lap, "Get bored with you? With a Hero?! I'd have to be mad!" She giggles, running her fingers lightly up his sides, trying to tickle him, "You just get that absurd idea out of your head right now, you great silly!"

Vash laughs and falls back with her, curling both his arms around her waist. "Heh. Consider it forgotten! I won't make that mistake again." He sits up just a little and kisses Blue's forehead. "It wasn't real common for someone like me to be making love very often. Just finding a partner was pretty tough in my position. I don't really consider myself an expert... I guess I was just worried about making you happy. I tell you what, Blue. I'll quit worrying about it, and if something should be different, I'll trust you to tell me... and just quit being silly."

Blue giggles, curling her arms around his neck and letting herself relax against his front as he rocks back. At his confession she smiles shyly, nuzzling gently against him, and murmurs, "I um... haven't had much practice either, to be honest, love. I've just read the usual pillow books and listened to my relatives talking to each other about technique and pleasing partners and stuff like that..." He can feel her breathing lightly against his chest, and the loose flannel shirt is soft under his hands. She rests her head under his chin and adds softly, "I'm... glad you're not real experienced either then. We can learn together what we each like most, if you don't mind?"

Vash smiles brightly, and curls up a little, holding her very close. Somehow he manages to run his hands over the small of her back without ever brushing his claws against her. He rests his head against hers, and murmurs, "I'd like nothing better, Blue."

Kerry finds the two humans fairly quickly, fortunately. They're glad to see him, walking quietly along towards another inn that they usually stay at when in Karlstrasse, and they listen in startled fascination to his explanation of rowan. After that they thank him profusely for the new information, apologize for their startled reaction earlier to him, and cheerfully offer to share some drink with him. The three of them end up chatting long and companionably into the night, drinking, sharing tales, and occasionally singing drunkenly together.

Doug, unfortunately, does not find the small bat, although he and Annifred wander cautiously around for quite some time, searching. Douglas looks. He keeps looking. He looks all night, his worry growing. He tries his best to raise seven kinds of Hell in digging up Kerry, asking every guard on the nightwatch if they've seen the Keero. He's not sure about Annifred, but he's glad for as much help as she gives, and it's not until the sun comes up and he's exhausted and the last nightwatch is turning in to sleep themselves that he staggers back to the Egg, his tail slashing behind him agitatedly. He looks at the table they were at the night before, and his tail kinks. He looks around for the dryad or the minotaur, asking if they've seen Kerry, Vash, or Zildjian.

Annifred comes in with Douglas, looking about like trolls always look, if a little tired. Her smile is a little subdued, her tail flicks slowly back and forth, and she stays close to Douglas. She occasionally yawns impressively. Hotspur silently offers coffee to both -- he's seen that groggy look before -- and simply shakes his head at the question about seeing the little bat. To the request for Zildjian he tilts his massive head slightly and rumbles deeply, "Sleeping... you want to wake now?"

Fortunately, Kerry does turn up again, returning in the morning complaining of a hell of a hangover... he draggles in shortly after Doug returns to the Egg, looking at least as sick as he ever did in the troll trucks. "Oh, Makers... what were those maniacs drinking?" Hotspur looks up, then back at Douglas, and points silently to the entering bat. He pours another strong, steaming mug of coffee for Kerry too.

Douglas shakes his head, then nods, then shakes it, then just sighs and accepts the coffee, taking a slug of it. "I don't know, Hotspur... we couldn't find Kerry anywhere. The nightwatch didn't see him at... all... what are you pointing...?" He eventually gets it though his head to look at what the big minotaur is pointing at, and it takes a moment for him to register the diminutive Keero. "Pilot!" he exclaims. "What in the...! What happened? We were looking for you all night! Are you all right? Did you find them? The redcaps didn't...?" He simply falls silent, his agitation showing only in his swishing tail and subtle -- all right, not-so-subtle body language.

Kerry winces at Doug's voice and holds a claw up to his mouth in a shushing gesture. "I found them. They didn't know, so since I had a rowan sprig, I escorted them back to... their... inn... and then we stayed up talking for the night." He sniffs at the coffee and looks worse at the scent.

Annifred yawns hugely again and takes the coffee, thanking Hotspur. She leads the sputtering cougar to a table by the fire and settles in its warmth, saying, "This worth all effort, Douglas? We go home, sleep now?"

As if on cue, Vash strolls in at that very moment with Blue, one arm draped across her shoulders, while she has one curled around his waist. Hotspur looks up as the door opens again... then smiles slightly and simply points again, to answer the last, unanswered question Douglas had given him. He pours more coffee, pushing the two mugs across the bar. Vash grins a little, nods to Hotspur; then notices the general demeanor, and his smile vanishes. "Something happened while I was gone." He doesn't say, I turn my back for five minutes... -but he's thinking it.

Annifred looks over at the entering armadillo, then nudges Douglas and murmurs, "Hey, is Vash," so he figures it out. Poor tired cougar.

Douglas nods quietly to Annifred, sighing as she settles him down. "Ja. Should have been worth it. Sleep now -- er, soonest." He looks up as Annifred settles him down beside the fire and he registers Vash's presence. "Oh... Vashti- er, Captain! He starts to stand, but just settles for nodding to Vash and raising his mug of coffee.

Kerry blinks at something. "Funny... I thought they were going to stay here..."

Douglas moves with Annifred to the fire, looking at Kerry, frowning but still a bit too dazed, coffee mug clutched sharply in one hand. "You... but... it was... you said you'd be right back. We were looking for you all night... and this is their inn. They were going to stay here."

Blue smiles happily at everyone, then collects the two coffees with a quiet murmur of thanks to the huge minotaur. She hands one to Vash with a softer smile. Vash takes the coffee one-handed, "Thanks, Blue." He leans down and kisses Blue's forehead gently. "Okay, so... yo. Captain on deck. Someone want to fill me in? Hello?" Blue settles down on the hearth, sipping her coffee and watching thoughtfully.

Kerry winces again. "Something... did I say that? I should have said that. I don't remember it. Don't remember which inn we went to." He starts to shake his head, then thinks better of it. "Told stories. They told some, I told some... why'd I forget to check back in? Rule two. Always maintain backup..."

Vash turns to Annifred, as she seems to be the only lucid person present so far. "Annifred, what the hell's going on?"

Annifred grins, "Kerry wander off with strange people, lost all night, back now."

Vash's grip tightens almost imperceptibly on his coffee mug. His face does an odd thing; it kind of freezes in a just sub-smile position. There is a long pause. "Oh... did he now?" It takes several moments for his face to relax... it gets there eventually. Blue blinks, pausing as she sips her coffee, to glance sideways at the sudden change in tone in her sweetheart's voice. She watches him thoughtfully for a moment... then turns to stare curiously at Kerry.

Kerry skrees, "Laws' people. Overheard them talking, told them not to send humans to Azteka... introduced them around... they left, I went to warn them about the redcaps... and I never finished my dinner. Why didn't I come back?"

Douglas looks about to see if anyone else is around, then looks to Kerry and nods, sighing. "And I went out after Kerry in case any redcaps did show up and they overwhelmed Pilot and... the two humans. I couldn't find any trace of him."

Vash says, "Uh huh."

Douglas glances to Annifred. "That is... we couldn't. Annifred stayed up with me to help." He smiles gratefully, if exhaustedly, to the troll.

Kerry blinks. "Wait. They said they didn't know about the redcaps, but they said they had a regular inn. Why would they not know if they'd been here that often?"

Annifred grins cheerfully at the weary cougar, patting him (gently, for her) on the back, then says to Vash, "Thought be safer have troll and cougar rescue humans and bat than just cougar. Annifred not want Douglas lost."

Vash says, "Neither do I. Was a good idea, Annifred; good thinking. Thanks for keeping an eye on him."

Douglas grins softly to Annifred. "Douglas not want Douglas lost!" he says, smiling and squeezing her hand. He downs another mouthful of coffee. "Pilot... they came here, to the Egg. They asked us if it was safe here. They came in. They set their horse and cart out in back, they came in to eat, got distraught, and left. They didn't come back. You didn't come back." He makes a quiet, thoughtful sound. "Now that we know they were Laws' people, it makes sense that their cart was really very well... made." He blinks, frowning at that. "In fact, it was perfect." He stands. "I'm going to go see if the cart is out back. I'll be right back."

Kerry winces at almost any sound, even soft voices. "And I've never had a hangover this bad. What happened to me?"

Vash says, "Distraught? Why were they..."

Annifred goes with Douglas, who hesitates before heading out. "Ah... yeah. They got kind of agitated for some reason..."

Vash pauses... then goes pale. "What did you tell them?"

Douglas gulps at Vash's expression. "I... didn't tell them anything, Captain," he says quietly, shuffling his feet. "They were distraught when they discovered -- on their own -- that the blackguard came from us, and that we were the center of the song being sung." He glances to the door. "Ah... I'll be back... two minutes. Be right back!" Hotspur gets a faintly puzzled look... then, with a grim set to his face, he paces ponderously out after the cougar and troll. No one is messing with his customers, in his dryad's tree!

Douglas heads out to the back, taking his time despite his exhaustion. Even with his sleep-deprived and addled mind he can tell the cart thing is artificial. The wood is so perfect because it's not wood -- not real wood, anyway. It's some sort of plastic or synthetic resin. An excellent imitation of wood, but it's an imitation. Perfectly straight, as well. That gets him curious; he dives underneath the cart, asking Annifred to watch for the humans. That shows even more interesting things to him. The metal is smooth, definitely not hand-made. The bolts are precisely threaded. The wheels and axles are also perfectly round. The metal parts are machined, definitely well above Crossroad's technology level.

Douglas stands up, brushing his hands upon his legs and grimacing. They could have done a better job of trying to blend in! the engineer in him mutters mentally. When I was old enough to be playing with my Construx set as a kid, I could have seen this was machined and not hand-made like almost everything else on Crossroads. They've a lot of nerve blanching about 'cultural contamination' -- if that is what they were freaking out about last night. He gathers up the others, thanking them for coming out with him, and heads back into the Egg, his tail twitching.

Kerry skrees, "Told them not to send human folks to Azteka. Told them our names... they got upset that we were the Heroes in the song, and about your shirts. Said something about how they'd thought they were local."

Blue looks a bit puzzled, "They are local, Kerry." She adds with pride, "I made them, so people here could share in the heroism!"

Kerry grins fondly at Blue, even with his blinding headache. "Not the shirts, Ms. Blue. The design."

Vash's eyes widen. "You... t-" He opens his mouth, a huge lungful of air behind it, then pauses. He turns, mouth still open, looks at Blue, then at Kerry, then Blue again... and claps both his hands over her ears before turning back to Kerry and grating, "Estas apedrear, y madre chingate!" Blue blinks slightly, then grins up at Vash without moving.

Vash continues to go on, and on, apparently having forgotten that he's the only Spanish-speaker in the room. He continues to demonstrate his fluency by unleashing a torrent of vulgarity that lasts for a good eighty seconds, and only partly makes it back into English toward the end as he calms down. Blue continues to sit quietly, sipping her coffee occasionally, apparently utterly unperturbed and still watching with interest.

Kerry would glare, but it hurts too much at the moment. "That sounded insulting. Do you think we could have fooled them for more than a few hours? Douglas has his spanner, I was wearing my goggles, they saw Zil's shuttle in the tree."

Vash releases Blue's head. "The fucking trolls have spanners! And it didn't occur to you for one moment that maybe we should have tried to approach them on our terms and not just say, 'Hey! How you doing? We're the local heroes!'"

Kerry skrees, "But we didn't tell them that. They knew."

Vash says, "Ay, chinga...! And who knows what happened after you... decided to go party with them. I don't... believe this."

Kerry frowns. "I don't believe that either. I vaguely remember wondering why they were leaving, and thinking that having them eaten by redcaps wouldn't be worthwhile..."

Vash says, "And now I've got to raise some more hell. I don't appreciate it when my crew is jerked around like that." He folds his arms. "And apparently you thought my little lecture on going out alone was... what, for my health?"

The door opens, and several farmers enter, talking quietly amongst themselves. They nod politely to the group, although the eyes of one narrows at the apparent tension in the room. The dryad flows out of one wall, setting food and drink on the table for them, and they start to settle around the table... which is well away from the hearth where the others are sitting or standing.

Vash turns, looks over his shoulder, then drops his voice into a low, grating murmur. "Does anything I say to you ever sink in? I'm well fucking aware that I have a lower military rank than you but I am your god damned superior on this mission. I'm trying to keep you from getting killed. And to keep shit like this from happening!"

Kerry winces at the sounds, and points upward. "Not in public. I... was... going to step outside. Here, in the courtyard. Why didn't I come back in?"

Vash takes a deep breath. "Blue, could you leave us alone for a sec?"

Blue looks up at Vash, then at the farmers... then murmurs quietly, "I... don't think the farmers will come with me, Vashti, but I'll certainly try if you want... or...?" She rises, tilting her head slightly at the door to the back room, then glancing at Vash for further instructions.

Vash says, "No. No, that's okay. I'll take this elsewhere." Blue nods, then smiles quietly at Vash. He can see for that second, shining in her eyes -- she can't fix what's wrong... but she can be there for him when he comes back. He puts down his mug, grabs Kerry's arm, and says, "Come on. I want a goddamned answer."

Kerry frowns again, then hisses in pain at the rough contact. "I remember that. You gave me the order, I agreed with the order... I intended to follow the order. Why couldn't Douglas and Annifred find me all night?" Blue quietly shifts her seat so she's next to the door that Vash and Kerry have gone through, making sure no one else uses it.

Douglas enters a few minutes later, with Annifred and Hotspur, wiping his hands and looking a little grim, but not awfully so. He blinks, looking around and not seeing Vash or Kerry. He grimaces a bit, wincing, then looks to Annifred. "I can't leave until Vash comes back, Annifred. I don't want to keep you from sleep, though, you must be exhausted. Do you want me to catch up with you at the warren later?"

When the others enter Blue just nods quietly once, tilting her head so they know where the bat and the armadillo are. Douglas nods quietly in acknowledgement of Blue's signal, then chews upon his lower lip. Annifred says, "Silly cougar. You think I leave you after bat missing? They want take you, they take both of us." She grins and nuzzles him cheerfully, adding, "We go upstairs, have some fun while we wait?" Heaven forbid she lower her voice when making a suggestion like that, so the whole room has heard it. She just grins at Douglas.

Blue glances at the lovers, then grins, "I'll tell Vashti where you are, okay?"

Douglas blinks, his ears and tail perking straight up. "Ahh..." He glances around at the attention, and tries to look sheepish. He lowers his voice a bit. "I think Vash will very badly want to talk with me when he's done, but... well, some sleep sounds good..." He doesn't really expect sleep, however.

Blue grins, waving a shoo'ing hand at them both, then calmly having another sip of coffee. Annifred says, "Could nap by fire. Or find Vash now." She leads Doug over to Blue and says, "Hiya, Blue. Things okay?"

Blue nods, looking up at the much taller cougar and troll, "Yes... but I think Vash wanted time alone with Kerry, please?"

Vash drags the bat into the back room, and shuts the door behind him. "Don't change the subject, Skydancer. I've had it with this bullshit. I've been doing my damnedest almost since we arrived to smooth stuff over with people in your wake. Do you know that? I understand that you don't identify well with people here. That's fine. I'm cool with that. I understand if you want to go home. But I can't deal with this anymore, nor should the rest of the crew have to. I am the Captain for this mission. I don't have the bars, I know that, and you've made it abundantly clear that you do too. I can't stand having to pull rank, but fuck it. Here it is. You've been consistently insubordinate whenever it suited your purposes throughout this entire mission. And you've got the balls to tell me what you do and don't wish to disobey? Look, I don't expect complete obedience out of anyone, but a little fucking respect sure would go a long way." He turns, and opens the door. "I'm done with you." He closes it behind him. "Blue, I'm going to walk around the tree. I'll be back in a minute." He doesn't even break pace as he says it -- and then he's out the door and gone.

Blue blinks as Vash paces by... then looks up at the cougar and the troll and says sweetly, "Okay! I think he's done now." She smiles, then sips her coffee again.

Douglas blinks, watching Vash stalk out of the room and past them. He swallows, then sighs. "Uhm... yeah," he murmurs.

Annifred says, "Annifred want time..." and is interrupted by the door opening. She says, "..." to Vash, and gets nothing out before he's gone. She frowns, "Annifred heard no screaming," then looks at the door suspiciously.

Douglas says softly, "That in and of itself was a bad sign, I think, Annifred." He looks around nervously. "Uhm..." He shuffles his feet a bit, seriously unsure as to what to do.

Annifred nods and says, "Douglas look?"

Douglas blinks to Annifred, then shakes his head. "N-no... Vash'll be back in a minute..." He blinks. "Oh! Ah... no, Vash wouldn't have... done anything like that, to anyone in his crew." He sighs, "But still..." He knocks quietly on the door. "Pilot?" he asks, and opens it, poking his head in.

Annifred nods and settles down next to the fire. She smiles at Blue, "Crazy space men, ja?"

Blue grins at Annifred, then nods mischievously, "Much fun, though, ja?"

Annifred grins, "Trolls like cougar, ja. Want trade sometime?"

Blue smiles a small, very happy smile into her mug... then grins shyly up at Annifred, shaking her head, "No, but thank you, Anni."

Annifred just grins, "Okay, no share." She relaxes by the fire, watching Doug standing in the door and listening to Doug talk.

Kerry is sitting with his head against his wings. He looks up blearily as Doug looks in. "You're not going to shout, too, are you?" He considers something, then looks back up. "How long was I gone before you came after me?"

Douglas shakes his head, staying in the doorway. "No, no shouting from me. You were out the door and out of our sight for maybe one minute before Annifred and I walked outside." He shrugs a little. "Maybe at most five minutes, but probably less than that."

Kerry nods. "Okay, that makes sense." He almost throws up after nodding. "That was a mistake..." He regains control of his stomach and continues. "You mentioned that I said I was coming right back for my dinner, and I don't remember it. Tell Vash, will you? He's thinking I went insubordinate on him again, and I don't remember planning to disregard his order not to do that. I know I've been insubordinate on occasion, but it was always intentional, not a spur of the moment thing. I don't remember planning to stay either, though, and you said I was... and it doesn't make sense that I would have wandered off without checking back in if I'd said that. Something's screwy somewhere. My memories don't make sense to me." He closes his eyes and puts his head down again. "And I've never been this hungover, either. I know I wasn't drinking anything harder than winter wine."

Douglas nods, "I didn't think you would. Which is why we were so concerned. You'd said you would come right back to dinner, too, and didn't. When I see him, I'll let him know, he... stepped out for a bit. I'll ask Hotspur to send in some coffee." He starts to slip out and close the door gently behind him. Gah, I don't even remember Rolf "Seven-Day Hangover" Bates looking quite that bad... then again, Vash just probably talked with him really strongly. To put it mildly.

Kerry mumbles, "Could'na been. They haven't got anything stronger..." He doesn't seem to realize the inaccuracy of that statement.

Blue, sitting next to Annifred and also quietly listening, raises an eyebrow at Kerry's comments to Doug. She murmurs quietly, "Excuse me, please?" to the big troll, and steps around her to peek through the doorway, past the big cougar, putting out a hand to stop the door closing. She looks utterly unfazed by the fact that the cougar might want to shut it. Douglas stops short, blinking to Blue and not quite closing the door all the way. He shifts his weight a little from one foot to the other briefly, before standing a bit to the side for Blue.

Blue says with quiet politeness, "Pardon me, pilot Kerry... but I have a question or two, because you're making my sweetheart's life really difficult. First, are you suggesting it's better to be insubordinate deliberately, rather than accidentally? Why not just not be insubordinate at all? -and second, did it occur to you to just accept the blame, and try to figure out what happened later -- rather than insisting over and over that it's not your fault?" She takes a sip of her coffee, then adds quietly, "Don't you want friends?"

In the utter silence the small, slight woman watches the bat steadily.

Kerry opens one eye, looking at Blue without moving his head. "I... am trying to figure out what happened. Blame comes when we know what happened." He blinks slowly and leaves his eyes closed. "As for the rest... I'd like friends, yes. I'm not good at them yet. Insubordination... is better not to be at all. I am trying to say, I know when it happens, and I don't remember it happening. It's like I completely forgot my orders."

Blue tilts her head, watching the bat thoughtfully... then shakes her head. Quietly she says, "I'm sorry you don't understand remorse, or saying you're sorry. I hope you survive without your crew's help... but it sounds like you've worn out your welcome with them." She steps back and looks up at Doug, "Close the door, please."

Douglas blinks to Blue, then lets the door close, still gently and without noise. Blue turns and walks composedly over to where Vash left his mug. She picks it up, then heads outside, waiting for her sweetheart to come around the corner of the ancient oak. Annifred listens to this, and watches Blue leave. She whistles quietly and murmurs to Doug, "Not want her pissed off at me."

Douglas murmurs quietly, "Neither do I," as he settles down at the fireplace beside Annifred.

Annifred says, "Vash say he done with bat. Not our problem any more, ja? Want go home, sleep, have fun?" She grins at Douglas, and offers her hand to the tired cougar.

Last modified: 2002-Jan-18 16:30:24

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