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New Families, New Friends

    As the Fall Gathering gets closer, the town is seized with a sort of gleeful frenzy. The clearing in the center of the University fills up with wagons, trucks, yurts, tents, and other vehicles and temporary housing. Students are reunited with their families, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, and classes are pretty much over for the season. The hunters and farmers in the local area are kept busy helping provide for the new arrivals, and food is freely shared so that none go hungry.

    The trolls have practically ringed the Gathering clearing with small booths, tables, benches, and other places to sit, eat, trade, and gossip; and the sounds of ringing hammers can be heard almost constantly in the week before the Gather. The Gather will begin in the evening, and people are working once again at preparing the clearing traditionally used. The dryads have moved trees away, to make a large, slightly oval clearing, expecting more people to arrive for the longer Harvest Gather, and that many people will want to see the new local heroes, which even they are proud of.

There are a number of groups working here. There is a group of trolls setting up tables, either heavy enough that won't tip, or some they're hammering into the ground. A group of musicians and a couple of trolls are building the stage, which the band will occupy at the other end of the clearing. Some humans, one of which is Coldwillow the Professor from the university, are arranging lighting over the area, seemingly using magic but planning carefully so as not to miss anywhere. Another group of humans works at a set of booths, where they've built fires and are beginning to set up to cook meals throughout the party.

The troll trucks come rolling in the day before the Gather, much to the excitement of the local Broken Horn trollhome. There's much confusion, gleeful yelling and hugging, screeching from a big, red-eyed, bat-winged thing riding in the back of one of the trucks, and painfully loud backfiring from one of the trucks, but once the tumult of arrival dies down, the groups sort out. Hallifred has arrived with some of his folks, and is quite happy that his old trollhome from Bald Mountain has sent some people too. These trolls are all as large or larger than Hallifred, stony and massive, and happy to see how well Hallifred's done, and to check up on little Thurn's new place. They're also fascinated by the new little Heroes that have saved their offspring from their same stony fate.

Kerry is happy to see Hallifred's group finally arrive, and makes a point of wandering over to help them unload. He's hoping that Katla came along again... but he'll say hi to all of them who are here. Kerry is smiled at politely by the arriving trolls, but generally carefully stepped around or put up out of the way when it's announced he's fragile.

Douglas helps the trolls when and where he can, but he keeps relatively close to the Egg, on the lookout both for the Aztekans and the two humans. He hasn't seen them since that evening they arrived, a day or so ago, and he's been checking on the Egg's stables, making sure their wagon and horse is still there. I wonder where they're hiding? he thinks. He decides to be mildly courteous and not rouse the town guard after them, but he's not particularly keen on just letting them off the hook. He's not going to confront them, but there are too many questions. Then again, they did something to Kerry, he thinks. We've got to be very careful...

He's cheerfully excited as much as the other trolls to welcome the new arrivals, and does his best to welcome them as the others in the trollhome do. He greets by name any of the ones he recognizes from their travels before, and is a bit surprised at the creature riding the back of the truck, making polite inquiries as to what -- No, this is Crossroads, kitten! -- rather, who it is.

Even though it's only late morning and things are still being assembled, the fox clans are gathering here, both preparing for much dancing, and making sure to plan for music. Many of them seem to be musicians, and have a professional interest. Others simply snoop around the woods, making sure nothing unpleasant is even remotely near, so the party will be without problems. They're working quiet, subtle magics into the area across a surprisingly wide range -- as much as three hours walk away.

Larrikan brings Sakura here, very proud to be able to escort the beautiful hero, and introduces her to all the foxes they meet. It's not long before a group of foxes has collected there, all wanting to meet and hug Sakura. Sakura is gracious and hugs back, happily greeting any of the foxes that want to meet her. She's a little embarrassed by all the attention, but trying hard to enjoy it for the time being. Douglas and Feina have also turned up, with the local trolls from the Broken Horn trollhome. While the trolls are busy introducing Douglas to the newly arrived trollhome members, and greeting one another, Feina slips away and finds Sakura, Larrikan, and Aedaith, giving each of them warm hugs, "Hi!"

Sakura hugs Feina! "I'm so glad to see you! How were your wanderings?"

Feina grins, "I've spent the last few days at Broken Horn with the trolls, teaching them the Hero's Song so they'll all know it right!" She waves at the trolls and pulls Sakura over that way a little, probably into earshot of all the trolls. Sakura happily lets Feina haul her off towards the trolls. She waves at them and smiles when she gets close.

One of the huge Bald Mountain trollhome trolls tends to carry the bat-winged thing perched on one stony shoulder. Doug is introduced to a bewildering number of trolls that make even him feel small, and most especially to Sekk, the leader of the Bald Mountain trollhome. At his interest in the creature, Sekk laughs a low, gravely, but cheerful chuckle and introduces Doug to the creature -- her pet, Kyerno, which glares with glowing red eyes down at Douglas, unmollified until Sekk feeds it a piece of jerky. It looks like nothing so much as a classic church gargoyle, glowering down from Sekk's broad shoulder.

Douglas greets Sekk warmly; he's genuinely glad to meet members of other trollhomes besides Hallifred's and the Broken Horn trolls. He's more than a bit surprised by the sight of the gargoyle; with Kyerno on her shoulder Sekk lends no less a majestic and awe-inspiring image than of the stately, gargoyle-bedecked church he had seen a picture of in his history book once. He knows better, with that glare, than to try to pet it -- especially with the way it chews the jerky as effortlessly as if it were a stick of chewing gum.

Feina says, "I had a nice time with the trolls. They're very enthusiastic, and a lot of fun presuming they remember that I'm a lot more fragile than they are." She points Douglas out, "Douglas was very nice. I curled up with him at night." She giggles and adds, "He was so cute, the first morning. He thought I was you!"

Sakura blushes furiously at that... giggling a little. "Er... did he?"

Feina nods, "He did. He seemed happy about that, and started to smell nice and interested until he figured out who it was." She sighs wistfully, adding, "And then he didn't want to play."

Sakura slips an arm around Feina's shoulder and hugs her. "I'm sure he didn't mean that he didn't want to play, Feina... just that he was... sleepy and not all 'there' yet."

Feina grins, "Oh, I think he'd just rather play with you." She waves cheerfully at Douglas, and asks Sakura, "Isn't he pretty?"

Sakura just about stumbles when Feina says that... she coughs, "Yes... he is..." Annifred grins at the vixens. Sakura smiles, "Good evening, Annifred..."

Douglas talks cheerfully with the trolls... but the way his ears twitch and the faintly terrified look in his eyes shows that Feina's words are carrying. At that that last he actually gives a startled half-turn towards Feina. He visibly swallows and tries to keep himself from bolting for shelter. Oh... dear... oh, gosh. Doctor-san, I'm SO sorry! Sakura smiles at Douglas too. "Good evening, Douglas-san!"


Vash wanders into the plaza alongside a small knot of returning hunters, carrying a fresh load of meat for the Gather. He helps carry the burden across the plaza to one of the food stalls, depositing it and exchanging some brief pleasantries with the ladies manning the concession. He spends a few minutes grinning and joking with the other hunters, before the knot disperses into the crowd. Vash himself finds an out-of-the-way bench, and sits down to begin carefully cleaning his sword while he has a few free moments.

There's a faint scrambling noise on the table behind Vash, and then a small pair of hands cover his eyes, and with a small giggle someone says breathlessly, "Guess who?!" Interestingly... it doesn't sound like Blue...

Vash sits up a bit and pauses, cloth still pressed to the edges of the blade. "Drekaris."

There's a moment of silence... then a puzzled whisper, "Who's that?!" "The guy he killed, you dope! Shhh! He'll guess who we are!" and much giggling. Sounds like... kids, actually.

Vash grins and rests his sword in his lap for the time being. "Okay, okay. Uhhh... hm. Hallifred."

This comment from Vash produces another puzzled silence... then a small explosion of giggling. "No, silly! We're not trolls -- we're human!" A moment later two small bodies slip down off the table, to settle on the bench on each side of him. He's been flanked by two little girls; bright-eyed, excited, and obviously twins, "Hi! I'm Mica and that's Marta and are you really crowned with cousin Blue and are you really a Hero?! Where's your Hero shirt? Blue says she'll make us some too if you don't mind do you mind wow you're really different looking can I touch your tail can I touch your ears is that your sword that you killed Drekaris with?" The twins tend to talk in small explosions of mutual sentence bursts, and the pause is mostly due to both of them running out of air.

Vash opens his mouth, then closes it, completely unable to keep up with this much kinetic child-power. Like any good swordsman, he waits for an opening -- small as it might be... "Heh. Um... odelay, Mica, Marta. Nice to meet you. My name's Vashti. Yeah, Blue and I are together... she must be you ladies' younger cousin, then, eh?"

The kids take this as assent, and he's answered while being busily touched and examined, "What's 'odelay' mean? Cool, we like your name! Hey, your ears move! Didja know that second cousin Stephan can wiggle his ears, even though he's only 4? What a neat tail! How come we don't get tails? No fair -- only humans don't get tails?" They giggle delightedly to each other, then reply, "No, silly! She's not younger than us! Her mom is our Dadda's sister!"

One of them is fascinated by the sword, sprawling comfortably on her stomach on the table and almost falling into his lap to see it, "Are you cleaning it? Can I help? Was it all bloody from your wicked evil enemies?" while the other eews, wrinkling her nose, "Mica, you're just ikky! I wanna see if Heroes turn all red in the face and stammer too, when he gets the pillow book Momma's got for him and cousin Blue!"

Vash very gently keeps the flat of the blade toward the children, and nods and smiles, pleasantly answering the kids' questions as best he can, although some small part of him is trying to figure out why his fight-or-flight reflex is going off. He smiles a very polite, very plastic smile at the mention of the pillow book, and explains to the girls why he was cleaning his sword.

The girls seem to pick up somehow that Vash is less pleased with them than he was a moment before... they listen in fascination, but relatively soon something else catches their attention. Vash is graced with two enthusiastic hugs around the neck, a simultaneous kiss from each of them (one on each cheek), and a promise to protect him from Blue if he needs it -- they confide to him that cousin Blue is ticklish on the bottom of her feet, but he's gotta promise not to tell who told him, okay? -- and then the two apparent six-year-olds scamper excitedly off to see something else.

Vash just smiles, nods, and promises not to tell, then watches the little ones scamper off. Madre de Dios! He sits and stares at his blade for a moment, completely distracted, then shakes his head and slowly puts his focus back together, methodically working the cloth along the blade.


None of the Aztekans appear publicly for any length of time during the day before the Gathering. The capybara, one of the jaguars, and the llama can be individually spotted as they rush by on numerous errands, occasionally laden with bundles, and other times talking earnestly to various people. However, aside from a flashing grin from the guard siblings, they unfortunately don't have time to talk to the crewmates.

In the early afternoon the capybara and one of the jaguars come out to the clearing where the Gathering is to be held. They bow, then talk very politely to one of the dryads of the spreading, encircling trees, and a moment later pass her a small pouch. She accepts it and vanishes back into the huge, old oak. The two Aztekans stand silently, waiting, although what they wait for is not clear.

Finally, a broad lower branch slowly groans and bends, its branching, leafy tips lightly brushing the ground. The two Aztekans cautiously walk up the thick branch, then carefully peg together a nail-less, comfortable, elegantly cushioned and caparisoned seat that overlooks the Gathering clearing. Once it's sturdily set into place, the rather weary looking capybara patters hastily back towards the Egg, while the jaguar settles into guard duty on the ground by the lowered branch.

Kerry twitches at the Aztekan preparations. Oh, this is going to be interesting. Xochihualpilli is going to be above the throng, is she? I wonder how she's going to react to me? I'll be damned if I'm going to skip the Gather to impress her. Kerry shrugs at the Aztekans and goes back to chatting with the trolls. He glances at Sekk's gargoyle once in a while... if he didn't know better, he'd almost think it was a trollish bat.

Douglas manages to distract himself briefly with the formation of the Aztekan priestess's booth. Interesting. She'll want to watch and enjoy the gather, and yet have a place to relax in between... hey, I wonder if she can fly? Which would explain why her little booth-nook is tucked up in a tree -- it'd be no problem for her to get there, after all, if she can fly. He starts looking around for Kerry, to point out the booth if he hasn't seen it yet -- but Sakura's greeting grabs his attention entirely. Feina's cheerful shouting, er, talking not far from his mind, he blinks and swallows, smiling cheerfully. "Ah, good evening, Sakura-chan! How are you doing tonight?"

Sakura smiles, "Very well, thank you, Douglas!"


Kerry realizes, when a troll puts him up on a table for the third time and smilingly and sternly admonishes him to stay out from underfoot, that the trolls are a bit worried about either stepping on him, or dropping one of their very large and heavy bundles on him. He's not seen Katla, unfortunately... it looks like she may not have come to this Gather. Kerry stays on the table this time, watching with less and less hope that Katla's actually around. He'll wait, and ask about her when the trolls are done moving heavy objects.


As the morning wanes to afternoon, the number of other foxes grows, and Feina is distracted with gleeful hugs of cousins and brothers and sisters she hasn't seen in ages. Aedaith and Bandé turn up quickly, both having envious looks cast upon them by the others as they give Sakura friendly hugs, and obviously already know her. Sakura hugs Bandé and Aedaith! "I'm so glad you could make it! How were your travels?"

Bandé gives Sakura a long hug, and Aedaith says, "It was pretty nice. We made good time and hooked up with folks coming in for the Gather. Looks like it'll be a big one this year, huh?" When Bandé finally finishes, Aedaith seizes the chance to greet the foreign vixen, no less enthusiastically.

Douglas smiles broadly and nodnods cheerfully to Sakura, trying to forget for the moment what Feina was gracing all and sundry with not more than a minute or so before. "You're welcome!" He nods at the growing crowd. "It looks like it's going to be a good Gather!"

Sakura nods, "Quite a large gather from the looks of things... it will be fun, I'm sure..."

This interchange between Douglas and Sakura is interrupted by one of the newly arrived foxes asking, "Larrikan! Introduce us to your new friend!" Larrikan turns to do so, and runs off a list of names, introducing Sakura to each one. "This is Cahal of the Distant Walkers by Follows Rivers, and this is Cnan of Dark Red Fur by the Deer Chasers, and this is Isleen of the Snow Tamers by the Falcon Watchers, and Comgal of the Night Hunters by the Crow Singers; Logotorix of the Swift Folk by the Wind Dancers..." The names and clans run together as close to fifteen foxes -- a very large group according to Bandé -- are introduced. They're apparently from all over the local area, each of them giving Sakura a warm hug in welcome.

Sakura hugs each of the foxes and greets them by name. "It's a pleasure to meet you all..."

Douglas nods, again rapidly and cheerfully, then nods to the tree. "It looks like the Aztekan priestess will be attending. Er, sort of..." He blinks and tries to keep track of the sudden deluge of clan names of fifteen foxes. His opinion of Larrikan, already not at all low, increases even more. They must have bards' blood in them. There's no others who could even remotely remember such a list of names!

Sakura stops to look up at the tree, frowning a little. "We should keep one eye on that tree tonight, Douglas. Just in case."

Feina beams at the new foxes, "She's a Hero! The bravest of them all! Have you heard the Song?" No, apparently they hadn't, and Feina tells some of the story, and sings a little of the song. The other foxes pick it up quickly -- it's apparently a familiar melody and cadence -- and bits of the song are hummed and sung all around, in varying harmonies, for a few minutes.

Sakura blushes again. "I'm really not a hero, honestly. I was just... doing my job, really."

This is laughed off easily as modesty, and the foxes all seem to want to meet her just as much as before she said it. Comgal comes up to Sakura and asks, "So, lovely lady, will you be joining our clan?"

Sakura blinks a little, surprised at the question. "I... I don't know..."

Douglas blinks a bit, looking at the tree again, and frowning slightly, his deep blush disappearing as he nods quietly. "That... sounds like a good idea, Sakura-chan. There's something a little worrisome about the Aztekans." And about Law's humans. Where the devil are they, anyway? He looks around, frowning and trying to get a clear picture of what they looked like in his mind, trying to see if he can spot them in the crowd. What anthropologist wouldn't give seven years' worth of tenure to be at a place like this...? The question about Sakura joining the Shy Folks' clan surprises him a bit, but not too much; he was wondering when they would, after he was taken into the Broken Horn trollhome.

Comgal beams and says proudly, "I'm certain that a Hero like you would be a fine member of our clan. We'd be happy to have you, lovely lady."

Cahal turns to him and says, "She has no place in your clan, you perpetually lost ragamuffin. She should belong to ours." Logotorix says, "No, why should that be? We found her, didn't we Larrikan? She should be part of our clan!"

Larrikan blanches and his ears flick back. He says, "Uh. I suppose so." Sakura looks around between the foxes, with a silent 'uh oh' in her mind.

Cahal has stepped up close to Comgal, and has fluffed out all his fur, and is flicking his tail back and forth. Comgal doesn't seem to give an inch, turning to glare at the other fox, matching him fluff for fluff and flick for flick. Cahal growls and says, "Bandé! Help me convince this fool!"

Bande's ears are also back, and he says, "I'm busy, Cahal. I'm trying to explain to Sakura." Cahal snaps, "Let the women do that, and come over here and defend your clan." As he does so he steps forward, nudging Comgal, who says, "See? Your cousin abandons you," and sneers. Bandé's ears stay back and he barks, "Bull!" although he obviously has to resist the urge to get involved.

Vash continues to carefully clean his sword, and sighs quietly to himself. I'm really not worthy of a weapon this fine. I wonder where Svala is. Wonder if I could drop by the Broken Horn for a few weeks in the winter when I'm not hunting, and finish training. He sighs again. Provided I live that long. He pauses, considering the length of time by which trolls must operate, and the short span that he himself must operate under. Then he grins and shakes his head. Feh. To hell with that. Montoyas are too stubborn to die. Nanno, you were ancient when you left us. And now we're both heroes. I can't let you beat me now, you old fart. Heh. He chuckles to himself as he works, then looks up, standing and frowning in the direction of the sound of an altercation. "Ay, cagada. Now what."

Sakura takes a couple of steps back from the scene... her own ears down, but in... maybe a bit of fear?... rather than anger... Aedaith and Feina settle back to watch, apparently cheerful, as does Isleen, although she keeps to herself, looking around for a Snow Tamer to defend her clan's honor. Aedaith says, "Don't worry, Sakura. They won't hurt each other. It's all honor and show, and who will back down first." This is harder to believe as Cahal gives Comgal a shove, and is responded to with a nudge in return. The growling is constant now.

Sakura looks at Aedaith. "D-do I get put in the clan of whoever wins?!"

Logotorix says, "Come on, cousin Larrikan! We can best these buffoons!" and grabs Larrikan and tries to pull him into the budding fray. Larrikan says, "Logo, I don't kno..." and is ignored. Logotorix casually shoves Larrikan fully into Cahal, nearly sending both of them sprawling. The other Swift Folk fox snaps at Comgal and says, "Get back!"

Vash looks around. No one else seems real worried. He shrugs and sits back down, this time on the edge of a table to watch out of the corner of his eye. Ah well. Long as they don't make trouble for anyone else. Kerry's attention is attracted by the growling foxes, and he watches with a bit of concern at first... but then he notices the trolls are grinning about the affair. Must be mostly bluff, then. Let's see what happens. Sakura can put them back together if they do manage to hurt someone...

Aedaith grins, "They get to offer to let you join their clan first, and no one else can ask until you've decided one way or another. The choice is, at the moment, really up to you."

Sakura nods a little. "Can I stop them?"

Aedaith says puzzledly, "Well, I guess you could. Don't you want to be part of a clan?"

Douglas frowns slightly, seeing an unusual emotion developing in the Shy Folk: anger. More than that, rage, in fact! He has absolutely no desire to see this happen, and clears his throat a little. He opens his mouth to say something... then blinks. Like what? There's something making him feel very uneasy about this confrontation -- maybe it's the fact that this is a side of the Shy Folk he's never seen before.

But his wavering decision to interfere is solved for him when he glances around... and the part of his mind that's been looking for particular humans comes alert and baps him lightly with his mental tail. It's them! he thinks, and immediately looks away, keeping track of them out of the corner of his eyes. They're tucked in among the other humans, but what made them noticeable was their wide-eyed fascination as they watch the foxes. Likely they've never seen so many of the Shy Folk at once. A sudden, sharp growl from one of the foxes, matched by the other, makes him half-shake his head. So much for being 'shy.' This is getting to be almost as bad as saber-rattling back home.

The humans are also noticeable by the way the librarians, alone of the humans, seem to be frantically taking notes as the foxes start fluffing up at each other. He has to admit he's surprised and intrigued by it as well, but in a rather more personally disgusted way. He keeps mental track of them, even as he sees Larrikan get pretty much thrown into the one identified as Cahal. He blinks, glancing between the humans and the foxes. But... nobody's trying to stop this? He vacillates between interfering and covertly watching the humans.

Feina says, "Poor Larrikan. He has to fight for the honor of his clan, but if he wins, he loses."

Bandé's tail flicks and he growls low in his throat. Aedaith pokes him, "You stay out of this. You're her teacher; you don't want to have her in your clan. That would be very uncomfortable. She'd need a new instructor." Bandé murmurs, "I know." Feina repeats a little mournfully, "Poor Larrikan."

Sakura says, "I... have a family back home, Aedaith... what do you mean, Feina?"

Logotorix is doing a very good job of advancing on Comgal, too, growling and snapping his teeth in the other's face. Cahal snarls at Larrikan and tries to push him out of the way, and Larrikan says, "Hey!" and bares his own teeth, his tail fluffing as well as he becomes indignant.

Feina looks at Sakura, "Oh! If his clan wins, he wouldn't be able to be your lover any more." Aedaith says, "You don't have lovers inside your clans. It's not good."

Sakura gets a little wide-eyed at that... she steps up and dashes towards the growling foxes with her hands up. "Wait... wait!"

The foxish combatants look rather startled at Sakura's interruption. Larrikan steps back from Comgal and straightens his clothing indignantly, while Logotorix and Cahal stop growling but continue to look warily at one another, tails flicking. Sakura gulps nervously. "I can't join anyone's clan... I'm already in a clan..."

Larrikan looks relieved for a moment, then a little worried. Logotorix, on the other hand, beams and says, "Why didn't you say something? What clan?" His question is echoed by Feina, Comgal, and Bandé, all of them looking very curious, which is a lot of curiosity, considering they're foxes.

Sakura bites her bottom lip. "The Murasaki Clan... I'm afraid it's not as stylish as your names. It's not Sakura of a clan, by a clan... it's just Sakura Murasaki."

Douglas lets out a breath he didn't know he was holding, as does his mental kitten. Oh, that's a relief. The last thing I'd want to see happen is Sakura-chan being unhappy and feeling pressured. Gah, that was bad -- but at least it's over. He glances back towards the not-Alexandrian Librarians as Sakura gives the foxes her answer, gauging their reaction and wryly wondering if the woman is going to look like she's about to collapse, like she did the last time.

Sakura continues, "I suppose that by your beautiful naming traditions that would make me Sakura of the Tamagotos by the Murasakis..."

Cahal says quietly, "Consider yourself lucky, lovely vixen. You might have wound up in-clan with this cur." He adds, secretively but in a stage whisper loud enough to be heard everywhere, "He sleeps with his clan sister, you know." Logotorix' ears flatten at Cahal and he grabs the other's lapels, snarling in his face, "You take that back, you lying toad!"

Vash grins and lightly tests the edges of his blade with a fingertip. Ouch. This is better than a community theatre show of Cyrano. Douglas blinks at the sudden, surprisingly snide and off-color comment by Cahal. Holy...! Sakura frowns a little... then ducks her head and heads back to where she was sitting before. It's not her place to involve herself in family affairs... or otherwise.

The Librarians, like the other bemused humans, are still watching with fascination as they talk animatedly to each other and take notes... and some of the other humans nearby are both half-listening to the Librarians, and nodding slowly as they watch. It's obvious Librarians are respected here -- but they're just not as exciting as one of the extremely rare Shy Folk duels! There's a softly breathed, "...ooooh..." from the crowd as Cahal insults Logotorix.

Kerry shakes his head and turns his attention back toward the Aztekan priestess's seat for a moment before looking around the rest of the Gather. Looks like they're going to find something to fight about no matter what... Vash stands up and carefully sheathes the sword, methodically knotting in the sash as he ties it back on, then takes a long, circling orbit around the edges of the crowd, skirting the fox-knot as much as possible to try and impose himself in Sakura's eye-line.

Larrikan says, "Hey!" and tries to get between them, but Cahal assumes that he's being attacked by Logo's cousin. He reacts by grabbing Logotorix' shirt and shoving both of them to the ground. As Logo still has a grip on Cahal, he winds up landing on both of them, with another yelped, "Hey!" The scuffle loses energy, though, as other foxes, including Feina, Isleen, Bandé, and Aedaith, all cluster around Sakura, saying things like, "Ooh, what an unusual name," and "Well, Larrikan's got nothing to worry about," and over their shoulders, "Knock it off, you fools."

Douglas grits his teeth slightly, muttering softly. Well... may this be the height of Crossroads conflicts, Doug. At least they're not still treating Sakura-chan like some commodity. He starts looking around for Kerry -- ah, there he is, on the table -- and Vash, though he's sure Vash might still be out hunting. I need to tell them both that the pseudo-librarians are here. He glances to Sakura, who is surrounded by an ocean of russet tails and ears. I'm certainly not going to be able to tell her soon!

Isleen says, "Your names are very pretty, Sakura, but do they mean anything?"

Sakura smiles a little at Isleen, trying to be polite despite her concern for Larrikan. She answers absentmindedly. "Sakura means Cherry Blossom... Murasaki means Purple... Tamagoto doesn't really have a meaning... it's just a name." Sakura's attention is caught by a pair of ears sticking up from behind the crowd. Those aren't fox ears... she excuses herself and tries to push through the crowd for a better look. When she realizes it's the Captain she goes immediately over to him... "Hai, Sir?"

Vash grins sympathetically. "You got troubles, Doctora?"

One of the other foxes says, "Ooh. Sakura of Murasaki for Cherry Blossom. Much prettier." Isleen seconds the unseen murmur, "Oh, yes, that's much nicer." Bandé moves a bit off, to try and fish Larrikan out of the bottom of a pile of foxes, saying, "Hey, Larrikan, come meet a lovely Murasaki."

Sakura looks back at the throng of foxes. "Aiyah! I think I'm okay now but... thanks for the save... I was getting claustrophobic in there."

Vash smiles and shrugs. "De nada. You okay?"

The foxes follow Sakura, leaving the three who had moved to blows to sort themselves out with Bandé's help. Cnan timidly asks, "Are you Murasaki?" of the armadillo.

Sakura nods. "A little... rattled. I have no idea their naming traditions were something to fight over. My god." She motions to Cnan. "Vash... this is Cnan of the Dark Fur by the Deer Chasers."

Vash puts one hand reassuringly (he hopes) on Sakura's shoulder. "I think it's just ritual... nobody else seemed to be nervous about it. 'S'why I didn't jump in right away. I think it's just a dominance thing." He looks up at the approaching fox, grins widely, and says, "Nope. Montoya. Pleased to meet you."

Isleen looks a bit indignant, "Naming traditions? Certainly not! It's for the children!" She pauses, studying Sakura's waist with fascination, and another young woman manages to slip in next to them. She grins interestedly, "Hi! I'm Nessa, and the Foresters have too many vixens right now. Um... does Murasaki need more clan members, by any chance?" Her ears go back a little shyly, "I... I'd be very proud to be one of the Hero's Murasaki clan members?"

Isleen leans over to sniff interestedly at Sakura, then straightens and grins over her shoulder at Larrikan, "Hey! What's wrong? No cubs coming yet?"

Larrikan, standing up and brushing his clothes off with Bandé's help, shakes his head and says, "I'll keep trying, promise."

Sakura blushes a little at Larrikan and Isleen. "Nothing's wrong... just no cubs coming, that's all." She smiles at Nessa. "Well... my clan is very high on the... er... vixen ratio as well, I'm afraid."

There are nods and pleased smiles all around. The former tiff seems to have been pretty much forgotten in the interest and fascination of finding out there's a new fox clan in town. The sole person who doesn't look pleased is Nessa, whose whiskers and ears droop. Sakura smiles again at Nessa. "I'm sorry, Nessa. It's just that... I'm the only one from my clan who is here, so it... wouldn't be very practical, you understand?"

Nessa looks crushed, her tail tucking, while the other foxes just look bemused, some of them patting Nessa gently or brushing up against her comfortingly. Larrikan looks confused, "Er... what better time to accept fosterlings then, lovely lady? Nessa wouldn't shame your family, I'm sure. She's strong, smart, fertile... she'd do you proud?"

Sakura seems to be thinking for a second... she looks at Larrikan curiously. "Would bringing Nessa in Clan Murasaki help her?" She blushes, "I'm sorry... I'm a little confused. I don't quiet understand the traditions fully." She shakes her head a little, then turns to Nessa. "How does one go about... switching clans?"

There's a quiet murmur of, "Well, of course," sort of comments. Bandé finally says, "Of course, Sakura." He explains, "As a member of your clan, she'll be able to help spread the Hero's luck in this new place, especially if there aren't many others nearby. It also means there would be others of your own family to help out if you were in any trouble." Nessa looks a bit hopeful, watching Sakura and Bandé closely.

Feina giggles, "Wouldn't they be proud of you when they find out? A Hero and a whole bunch of new clan members?"

Sakura nods thoughtfully... she thinks she might be starting to get this figured out. "I'm sorry I don't understand yet... I will, I promise. I learn fast."

Vash inclines his head a little and murmurs to Sakura, "Sounds like you have a recruit, Doctora."

Larrikan says, "It's a nice little ceremony, from one clan to another. I'm sure we have enough witnesses to do it proper here." He smiles and asks, "Would you like a new sister?"

Sakura smiles at Larrikan, then at Nessa. "A sister who is closer to me than my clan possibly can be would be lovely. Nessa? Would you like to be a Murasaki?"

Nessa brightens, her eyes lighting up as she nods several times emphatically. There's a gleeful voice calling out to others, in the back of the group of foxes, "A clan fostering! We're going to have a clan fostering at the Gathering!" Many excited paw hands pat Nessa down, help her straighten her clothing, and neatly brush her fur out so she looks presentable.

Douglas is trying to slowly and casually make his way towards Vash along the edge of the crowd, now that attention is away from where the confrontation took place, while still keeping track of where the pseudo-librarians are. He doesn't want to loose them before he can tell Vash where they are...! Kerry looks back to the foxes at the new excitement. Now what? He moves toward the crowd of not-so-Shy Folk, wondering how quickly a fostering can be arranged.

Sakura looks at the girl in mock-seriousness and -- a first -- cracks a joke! "We'd have to paint you purple, you understand? Just so your color goes with your new name..." She grins and winks at the vixen.

The foxes laugh, and there are many congratulations to both the Murasaki and the Murasaki-to-be, and the foxes' talk turns to the plans for the ceremony. Sakura smiles and hugs Nessa. Any sort of tension has been forgotten, even by Logotorix and Cahal, and much happy conversation is the result. Plans will take a little while, and there's a Gathering to be started, which is another very pleasant distraction.

The foxes sort of thin out through the forest, looking for the things they need for the ceremony, and to take a little quiet time amongst themselves. The trolls grin at the small fey ones' exuberance, and continue setting up. That takes the rest of the morning and early afternoon. As the day gets later, people begin to collect, bringing more people, food, and laughter with them. It's realized about then that the trolls have stopped working and started drinking in their pavilion; the Gather must have well and truly started.


Vash is dragged off at some point by an almost twitchy Blue, who wants to be sure he looks his best and is a bit worried, um, he won't mind meeting her family, will he? There's, um... kind of a lot of them, does he mind? Vash laughs softly, letting himself be dragged along. "I think I've met two already... don't worry about it, mi amor. It'll be okay."

Blue stops, her eyes widening, "Oh no! Who was it?!" She frowns, almost fiercely for her, "If that dratted Cammie was insulting I'm going to... I'll just... I'll whack him!"

Vash blinks a few times. "No! No! It was, uh... Mica and Marta. The twins. No, it was okay, Blue, really!" He stops and holds her by the shoulders a moment. "Dios mio, Blue... are you okay? Why so nervous?"

Blue looks relieved -- then one hand comes up to cover her mouth and her eyes widen. She looks like she's struggling not to laugh, "Not... the first members of my family you met were the Terrible Twosome?!"

Vash nods and says, "Uh... yeah. They're, um... intense."

Blue opens her mouth... then gives a stifled snort in spite of herself... then sort of relaxes in Vash's hands, stepping forward to laugh and hug him tightly, "Oh, Vashti-love, I'm sorry... I just... well, I crowned without telling them and without bringing you home first. They already know I'm sort of a flaky artist type -- Mother and Father are hoping I'll grow out of it -- and they don't know you, so they're worried, you know?" She sighs, pressing her face against his chest and smiling ruefully, "I just want... I want it all to be perfect, you know? I want you all to love each other."

Vash smiles and hugs his partner gently. "Well... tell you what. Let's go clean up, and we'll work on it."

Blue takes a deep breath and nods bravely to Vash, taking his hand to walk back towards the University. She's obviously still a little nervous about bringing her lover home to see her family, in effect... she carefully (if unwittingly) tells Vash at least three times, "-just... just be your own wonderful self, okay? Don't be nervous... just be yourself!"

Vash just grins, looping his arm around her waist. "I'm not nervous, Blue... it's you I'm worried about."

Blue assures Vash repeatedly, patting him on the arm several times, that she's not nervous at all either, really, she's just fine! -although at some point she just stops and laughs, "Oh, who am I fooling... yes, I'm a bit nervous. Well, a lot nervous, I guess." She grins ruefully up at Vash... then smiles softly, "Still... it's not so bad when you're with me, love."

Vash smiles gently. "And I'm going to be there, Blue. I'm always gonna be there. Promise."

Douglas unfortunately completely misses Vash before he sees Blue heading off with his Captain, and shakes his head wryly. We'll probably see the librarians tonight anyway. It's not like they were hiding. Instead he goes and looks for Pilot and Sakura-chan -- if she'll have any time, considering her clan just got a new member! -- to pass the message to them that the pseudo-librarians are around, and to tell Captain if they see him before Doug does.

Meanwhile, the Gather gets into full swing. The magelights flare up and the musicians start some lively music for dancing. Foxes and humans play a strange and often compelling mix of songs that let everyone dance. The trolls laugh and join the dance at one side, making sure not to hurt the smaller, fragile humans. Douglas is welcomed by either group, and the foxes dance with the humans, which seems to amuse the foxes and please the humans to no end. Booths along the edge of the clearing opposite the trolls' pavilion, with the stage between them, waft beautiful scents of bread and meat and do a steady business, as do the trolls' own cook fires.

Sakura takes her turns dancing with the foxes, whenever she can get away from the planning... the planning didn't actually seem too difficult, and some of the more experienced foxes deftly made arrangements. The foxes have thrown themselves into music and dancing with great gusto. Nessa dances happily and flirts with all the dog foxes shamelessly, getting many interested looks -- she'll be part of a new, Hero's clan, after all. Larrikan smiles and tends to stay near Sakura when he can, but the dance and the other cheerful foxes often separate them.

Zildjian turns up with Hotspur, she with freshly buffed and shining scales, and he with an oak wreath carefully twined about his massive horns. They're greeted with enthusiasm and quickly swept into the drinking, dancing, and other general merriment.

Douglas wanders a bit for the time being, not dancing just yet, keeping one eye on the Aztekan booth as Sakura suggested, and also at the same time looking for the humans. Not that that's hard -- they don't seem to be trying to hide. That makes things simpler, at least. He takes a second glance at the Aztekan booth -- which isn't really a booth, more of a sofa. Huh... I guess the priestess doesn't hang from the rafters like Pilot does... Eventually he runs into Kerry first. "Pilot, hello!" he says by way of preamble, smiling quietly. "Enjoying the Gather?"

Kerry waves a wing at Douglas from his perch on a table by the trolls. "So far, yes. I'm afraid Katla didn't make it here, though. I'm going to try to catch a moment to thank Hallifred again for all his assistance." He looks a bit shamefaced. "Vash seems to be busy with Blue, so I should be safe enough. I can't believe I screwed up that badly yesterday..."

Douglas looks to Kerry. "Katla? No, I didn't see her, either. I'm sure Hallifred will be glad to see you though!" He shakes his head, sighing a bit. "Well... there's nothing to be done about it right now. We live and we learn and we move on. I've made my own mistakes, but I've learned from them. I'll tell you this much, there'll never again be a flange by my hand with a 2.1 millimeter radii when it should have a 1.2 radii!"

Douglas's smile fades a little, but remains plastered there outwardly. "The librarians are here, actually, Pilot. They're not trying to hide. I think we should tell Vash about them first, so he can look at them from a distance before any of us think of approaching them. I don't think they've noticed me noticing them, but after what they apparently did to you I don't want to risk coming to their attention. At least not alone. Just as soon as I can find Captain, though. What a time to be taken home to meet the family...!"

Kerry looks surprised. "What they did to me? How so?"

Douglas thinks for a moment, then nods, sighing. "Ehn... you're right, Pilot. I'm speaking before I let myself think. I don't know what happened last night. But I'd like to point them out to Captain before we do anything. If we do anything. If you see Vash, could you let them know they're around, please?"

Kerry nods. "Will do. Where'd you see them?"

Douglas tries to figure out the best way to point them out. "They were last chatting with those foxes, on the near side of the musicians. I think they're still there." He grins softly. "I'm not going to look over there just yet. I hope they haven't moved. And maybe I'm just being paranoid, but like I said, I didn't want it to come to their notice that I'd noticed them." He glances over Kerry's shoulder. "Ah, good... Sakura-chan looks like she's not swamped by foxes."

Kerry looks in the direction Douglas indicated, trying not to be obvious about it. "Let's go tell her, then, so we can all watch for them until the Captain gets back." Sakura is just standing in a group of foxes, chatting with them... the librarians are looking around interestedly and chatting quietly with a few folks sitting at the table with them. The man, Strander, happens to see Kerry looking in their direction, and he grins and waves cheerfully to the two of them, trying to attract their attention. A few of the other humans look up and smile and wave also. They tend to be the slightly older, less energetic types.

Kerry skrees, "Ah... well, they've seen us." He waves back briefly, trying to look friendly but not approachable. "Let's try to look busy."

Douglas mutters a soft curse. "Dammit. Remind me never to send in an application to the CIA." He smiles a bit, and nods and waves to Strander. "Well, they seem to be having a good time." He suddenly makes a bit of a show of pointing Sakura out to Kerry. "Talking with Sakura sounds like a good way to be busy!" And, at least, if he approaches us, we'll outnumber him. Gah... maybe I should just be less paranoid tonight...

Kerry chuckles ruefully. "Well, I know I've blown it. Can't believe I babbled that much to them before I got to know them. I guess I was worried about humans in Azteka, but... oh, well. What's done is done, and I'll try not to do it again."


Blue murmurs to Vash as they walk back towards the Gathering, "My family all came in, apparently... all the way from Rengsdorff!" She sighs in faint amusement, then smiles, shaking her head, "Well, I can't really blame them. Most folks haven't ever met a real Hero." She pauses, looking through the trees to the flickering lights and obvious merriment ahead, then stops to look up at Vash, her eyes bright in the dimness. She studies his face for a moment... then stands on tiptoe and kisses him lightly on the tip of his long nose. She grins a little sheepishly, then says firmly, "You are my beloved, and I am thine, and none may gainsay us!"

Vash just grins and hugs Blue tightly. "Just let 'em try. C'mon, let's go have some fun."

Blue and Vash appear hand in hand soon thereafter. They're wearing nice outfits with a color scheme that show them to be an obvious couple, and matching wreathes of leaves and harvest wheat adorn their heads. They also are swiftly and exuberantly whirled into the crowd -- Harvest crownings are blessed and give good luck with fertility, after all! Everyone wants to hug and touch the newly betrothed couple, in the hopes that the heroism -- or perhaps the fertility, who knows? -- will rub off as well.

Blue manages not to lose Vash in the excitement -- she grabs Vash's hand and starts proudly introducing him to a bewildering array of people, "Everyone, Captain Vashti and I crowned together, and he's a Hero and you'll get to hear the Song during the Gathering! -and see? This is the symbol of the Heroes on my shirt -- isn't it striking?" She holds the hem of her shirt out so everyone can see the white skull and crossbones...

"Oh! and Vashti-love, let me introduce you to my family!" Blue beams proudly at him, then waves vaguely at a large handful of curiously staring humans of varying ages, dressed in clean, nicely embroidered clothing -- apparently sturdy farmers all, "-this is Granpa Fontain and Uncle Craigh and Uncle Courtland and Aunt Schmida and their kids Perrin and Louise and Krista and Ellain, and their kids too which I'll introduce you to later since they're off playing, and here's my Uncle Harting and Aunt Wolflady-" that one stands out immediately to the armadillo -- a preternaturally lithe woman with laughing yellow eyes, and is that a fang she has showing as she grins at Vash? -- and that scent -- is she a- whoops, yet more folks to meet?! "-and Auntie Doshina and her husband Uncle Fitz and Greatgrandmamma and my cousins Cammie and the twins, Mica and Marta, and...!"

Vash is awash in names and faces almost immediately... what stands out most is the mix of cheerful greeting and cautious worry in the eyes of the people he's being introduced to. They circle him and Blue in a curiously warm way, despite the concern some of them try to hide, and he's patted carefully on the back, regarded with fascination, sniffed at amusedly by the "wolflady" person, and touched interestedly with ooh's and ah's by the small, bouncy, and excited passel of kids. The twins are particularly proud of having already discovered their new friend and cousin, the Hero, and seem to quite impress the other gathered children with what they know already about Vash.

Vash smiles as earnestly as he can, nods and makes introductions, internally racing to try to put names to faces and retain all of it, carefully shaking hands with the men and bowing to the ladies, and carefully giving out his full name to the apparent patriarch and matriarch, just for the record. He is politely asked to dance by a smiling, matronly woman, who tucks a hand into his arm and winks at him cheerfully. Vash smiles and bows politely. "Certainly, provided Blue will give me leave...?"

Blue grins at her aunt ruefully, then nods a bit proudly to Vash, "Auntie's very nice!"


Douglas walks over to Sakura with Kerry. "Well, let's just learn at least as much about them before long. We'll just have to hope that they really are just anthropologists, and that this 'Federated Civilizations' has benign intent with Crossroads -- and our own world, for that matter! We-" He stops short a bit as Captain and Blue arrive, and he's more than a bit stunned. What a great-looking couple! he thinks. He smiles and shakes his head quietly. I know that some people at home would be having fits over such a coupling. To which, after being on Crossroads for this long, I can only say... those people can cheerfully jump off a cliff.

Kerry grins. "Vash looks like he's in a good mood. Maybe I should apologize to him now, so he won't fire me..."

Douglas grins softly. "Maybe not while he's being introduced to the family. That good mood is probably a facade hiding deep-down nervousness. Or at least I imagine it is. I've never had to meet anyone's family in that context. Now where did Sakura-chan go... ah, there she is!"

Sakura smiles at Douglas and Kerry when they arrive... she too is watching Vash. Kerry nods, finishing his thought, "...or maybe I should just not bother him until later. Sakura... I'm sorry. I screwed up with the anthropologists. I hope it'll turn out all right."

Sakura nods at Kerry, her lips tight. "Yes. I hope so too, Kerry."


Vash has a very nice dance with the aunt, even though he can't quite remember which one she is. She's a good dancer, warm and friendly and obviously fond of her niece -- she asks quietly, "So... we all understand Heroes have to travel a lot, and that everyone wants to share in the heroism. Please excuse my bluntness, but have you planned for little Blue for while you're gone? And if you have, may I ask if you've considered what Blue might feel like, if some family intown wants to share in your heroism?" The woman's voice isn't hostile at all... if anything she seems warmly interested and a bit worried for the two of them.

Vash tilts his head a bit, keeping up the dance as best he knows how. "Family in town? I'm... not sure I understand the question, señora?"

Vash can occasionally see, over the aunt's shoulder, Blue talking very earnestly to her family, with much gesticulating, nodding, grave looks, and wide-eyed watching children. The aunt says gently, "Children, dear... any family would jump at the chance to have one of their girls bear the children of Heroes." She watches him for a second, then adds even more gently, "If this is too much, too fast, it's all right, dear... Blue did warn us that you weren't from around here."

Vash blinks once, then nods, comprehension dawning across his face. "Oh. Okay. I see. Um..." He takes a breath. "You deserve my honesty, señora. I don't... I don't know if I'm able to... give Blue children. It's not for lack of want, or for trying-" He pauses a beat, for a moment almost blurting out, God how we tried -- "I just... think we're too different inside. I understand what an important thing this is here. I understand if her family will object to me because of it. All I can do is assure you that I love Blue very much, and am doing everything in my power to take care of her."

The aunt tilts her head thoughtfully... then, surprisingly, as the dance continues around them, she beams at him, wrapping him up in a warm hug for a moment -- and then neatly continuing the dance, with an earthy grace born of much practice. "You don't know how much it means to me to hear you say that, Vash!"

Vash blinks, a little surprised, and nearly loses his step. He recovers quickly, "Then... you're not upset?"

The aunt seems utterly relaxed at this point, dancing mostly for the pleasure of it and his company, cheerfully saying, "Upset that you so obviously love my niece, and she loves you? Gracious, no, why would I? So, have you checked with a mage to see if the two of you are at all compatible or not?" She ponders as she dances, "Hm... that could entail some major favors, but I suspect we could swing them for such a wonderful thing, if it's possible... still, if it's not, have you considered fosterlings?" As Vash dances with the aunt she waves cheerfully back towards the rest of the family, then turns her beaming smile back at Vash for his answer.

Vash says, "Well... sure, I guess. I mean, why not? It's worth looking into. I'll certainly check it out, señora. And I'm sure it'll be a relief to Blue, too."


Douglas nods quietly to Sakura. "The 'librarians' are here at the gather," he says without preamble. "I imagine we're pretty distinct, so they know Kerry and I are here. They waved to us, so they know we know they're here, but they don't seem any inclined to run away or hide anything. We wanted to tell you and Vash before we did anything."

Sakura nods, "Thank you very much, Douglas. I'll keep an eye on them as much as I can. Thanks for letting me know..."

Douglas nods quietly. "If you get a chance to talk to Vash before we do, please tell him. Other than that, I think we should stay clear of them as best as we can."

Annifred meanders up with another troll, a stony-looking old male, and says, "Ay, Douglas! Want you meet folks from Bald Mountain trollhome, ja?" She grins toothily, "They brought pet gargoyle! You see yet?"

Douglas blinks to Annifred, then smiles widely. "Oh! Ja, I saw the gargoyle! Very impressive! I didn't get to really meet them when unpacking the trucks, so sure, I'd like to meet them!"

Annifred introduces, "Hauk, this Douglas of Broken Horn trollhome." To Douglas she says, "This Hauk of Bald Mountain trollhome. Old friend, know all Annifred's life, ja." Hauk rumbles to Annifred, "This troll?"

Douglas smiles and nods to Hauk. "I'm pleased to meet you, Hauk." He introduces Kerry as well, a little curious as to Hauk's question. Uhm, no, I'm not...? He glances back from the dance Vash and Blue's... mother? aunt? sister? It's so hard to tell, but she looks about the age for Blue's mother or aunt. He smiles to Hauk proudly. "I was taken into the Broken Horn home a few months ago. But... I was not born a troll, no."

Annifred grins at Hauk, "He good troll, Hauk. We say so, ja. He Hero. He find lost labyrinth. He free spirit guardian. He got maze crystal. He troll, even if cougar." Her eyes sparkle as she adds, "He fun too! Fuzzy!" She rumples his fur cheerfully in demonstration. This is enough for Hauk who gives the cougar a big hug, "Hi, Douglas!" He doesn't break the cougar, either.

Douglas urps! -and returns the hug as best as he can as he files away Annifred's answer. To paraphrase something that drama student he roomed with at College would say all the time (for some Godawful reason), When someone asks if you're a troll, you say yes!


Vash is quite busy, but partway through the evening Doug, Saki, and Kerry notice a small procession approaching the Gather. They see the small, stately Aztekan bat lady, her rich jewelry glittering even more gorgeously in the dancing magelight, flanked by the graceful llama, and with her remaining guards before and behind. She proceeds to the waiting tree branch, where the jaguar standing there, and the other two guards all bow deeply to her. She nods once, then holds out a dignified claw hand. The sergeant straightens, his gaze properly downcast, and stands close to her. She uses one of his long, twisting horns to keep her balance as she walks slowly up the branch, then settles down comfortably on her comfortable couch. The llama, less comfortable with being off the ground, follows her, settling down cross-legged on the broad tree branch next to the sofa. The three guards space out slightly on the ground below.

    Xochihualpilli wears a fine cotton tilmatli, or cloak, thrown over her shoulders. A luxuriant, heavy fringe quivers along the lower edge with her every shift and movement; a gloriously colorful ruff of featherwork shimmers about the tilmatli's upper edge; while rich, elegant figures writhe decoratively across the heavily decorated cloth. She proudly wears a wide, intricate collar of gleaming gold and inlaid tortoise shell around her smooth neck, while many, many fine golden wire rings glitter in her ears. More rings, of precious stones and gold, grace her slender ankles and fingers. A fine, dyed, ankle-length, thickly furred skirt gleams about her hips, which sway gracefully with her dignified, deliberate movements. Her dark raven head fur floats luxuriantly over her shoulders and feathered collar, revealing her rather cinnamon hued, serious face, while many delicate, pale scars pick out more intricate patterns on her gracefully folded wings.

The llama appears to have delicacies or something that the bat lady is occasionally munching on during the evening. There's also an intricately chased golden goblet Xochihualpilli occasionally quietly drinks from, thoughtfully observing the dancing and festivities occurring before her in the clearing. As the night passes the llama will rest her head lightly against the bat lady's side, on the couch, and Xochihualpilli occasionally idly strokes the llama's ears as she coolly watches the merry-makers below.

Douglas murmurs quietly to Kerry, "I guess she can't fly, either. Or she chooses not to. Why should she exert herself, after all, if she's the equivalent of nobility?"

Kerry skrees, "Ah, but if she could fly, she would. More impressive, I'd think. She might be able to, actually... but not weighted down with her own mass in gold."

Douglas grins quietly. "Kind of like how Dow is weighted down by all her mass? Drakes shouldn't fly. Back 'home'," the quotes are almost audible, "-they can't. But here, they can. And really very well, at that. Speaking of which, I wonder if Dow's mom is going to be here?"

Kerry chuckles. "I've been learning more about the drakes. They're not heavy. I think their flame gas is buoyant. Dow doesn't weigh much more than I do."


Blue's aunt brightens at a sudden thought, then grins roguishly at Vash, "Hm! If the two of you are compatible, perhaps such a handsome young man as yourself might be interested in other family members, if you happen to be around Rengsdorff and Blue says it's all right?" She taps him lightly but firmly on the shoulder, "Although... we shall not let it be forgotten whose beloved you are, I believe. We don't want young Blue hurt for the world."

Vash smiles a little. "I promised her a long time ago I wouldn't let anyone hurt her."

The aunt chuckles quietly, then nods approvingly, "I'm glad to hear it." She doesn't mention her previous suggestion again, simply enjoying the dance and his company.

As the dance ends, Vash happens to glance towards Blue... he sees her looking directly at him, looking a little frazzled. Framing her is the entire family, also all looking directly at him, with varying degrees of consternation, interest, worry, concern, and wide-eyed curiosity.

Vash looks up as the aunt releases him, and almost -- almost -- recoils at the sight of all those eyes on him. He just blinks once, then decides to go around with the aunt one more time, flashing Blue a winsome grin that he hopes is reassuring. He thinks, as he turns through another step and his back faces the family, Ay, cagada. Ay, cagada. Ay, cagada. I hope you're okay, Blue.

The aunt laughs softly, patting him on the back, "Now, now, they're not that bad... and... I think Blue could use a little help too, hmm? Just keep telling yourself they're more scared of you than you are of them!" She smiles and tucks her hand into his arm again, and starts firmly heading back towards the family.

Vash is determined not to frown; he fixes that hero's grin on his face, god damn it. "Actually, I'm more worried about Blue at the moment..."

Vash can see Blue's face again as he's turned towards the group. She studies him for a moment... and then seems to draw something from his approach, smiling back with confidence, as she straightens and raises her chin slightly. She turns and starts speaking quite firmly to the people around her, and Vash can hear the quiet murmur from the woman walking next to him, also watching Blue, "Good for you, darling."

Vash smiles a little, then, and nods to Blue. Hell, what was I worried about? You've got this under control, babe. His grin relaxes and settles back into his usual untroubled confidence as he strides toward the family.

"-don't see what the problem is, actually. If Uncle Harting can marry Aunt Wolflady, then I can certainly bring a Hero to the family!" Blue's put her fists on her hips, unconsciously imitating a pose she's seen Vash do. Her voice is firm and unyielding, and most of the adults facing her look a little taken aback... except for the middle-aged man with the lithe woman leaning against him, who smiles and murmurs quietly, "Hear, hear."

The feral-eyed woman grins wickedly as Vash approaches, but doesn't say anything. Blue smiles up at Vash once he's next to her, tucking a somewhat proudly possessive arm through Vash's, her voice clear and firm, "Hello, Vashti-love! Did Auntie Doshina take good care of you?" Flanking Blue on the other side, the aunt chuckles warmly, "My goodness, yes! What a charming young man!"

Vash grins broadly and nods. "Yes indeed, mi amor... your aunt is a very engaging lady," He turns to Doshina and bows politely, "And a fine dancer." He straightens up and smiles to Blue, "How are things here?"

The aunt chuckles warmly again, patting Blue on the shoulder, "You're very lucky, my dear!" Blue practically glows at that, although some of the other adults still look a bit worried.


Larrikan comes up to Sakura and murmurs something in her ear, giving her a hug and nuzzling at her cheek. She giggles, "Larrikan! People are watching," and moves one of his paws. His response of, "So? They know we're lovers already," does little to reassure her. He murmurs something else to her.

Larrikan murmurs something to Sakura, then says, "If you all will excuse me, I'd like to take this lovely vixen out to dance some more." He beams at Douglas, Kerry, Annifred, and Hauk with a tiny bit of steel in his eye that says he means it.

Kerry chuckles at Larrikan. "I don't think any of us are going to try to stand in your way. Have fun, Doctor!"

Douglas laughs softly and nods, "Enjoy the dancing, Sakura-chan, Larrikan." And I'm honestly glad it worked out so well for you, earlier today.

Larrikan grins toothily, "Let's go dance, Sakura, and then go meet your clansmen-to-be. I doubt they'll get enough of you before they take your name and being spreading it through the world." He adds as he leads her away, "I doubt I'll get enough of you, and I'm staying here..."

Douglas watches the foxes leave, then blinks to Kerry, resuming the previous conversation. "Really? Huh... I wouldn't have thought that. She's said she's a runt, but... maybe drakes really are that light. I'll have to work out the ratios later. Well, I guess what I mean is expect the unexpected. Besides..." He glances a little nervously to the couch nestled in the tree, "-she's apparently a priestess. I wouldn't put a little thing like flying beyond her... or her gods. And unfortunately they didn't tell us a thing about what equations to use when dealing with gods when I took Astronautical Engineering-Uplift Accelerated Learning Curve 481... other than one joke about 'dividing by zero'."

Kerry nods. "I know. Whether it's beneath her dignity or beyond her ability, though, I'm glad I won't have to try match her ability there." He snickers at the joke. "Somehow I don't think the locals would understand the humor in that one."

Douglas says, "That depends. Didn't you tell us that Dow called calculus a 'lower math'?"

Hauk, who has been talking for a moment with some others, turns to Douglas and says, "Ja! Come meet others and meet gargoyle. Not show fear -- can sense fear, ja?" The big troll chuckles, "You from far, or around here?" Annifred grabs Douglas by the hand and tows him along with the other, older troll, beaming at the cougar.

Kerry skrees in reply to the suddenly-moving Doug, "In one sense. I'm still trying to get my head around the difference. It's not high or low in terms of difficulty, though... it's more a matter of intent. Very strange, in fact..."

Hauk gives Kerry a rather strange look as he walks away, then just grins and shakes his head slightly, continuing to talk to Doug as he leads the way to see the other trolls. Douglas erps! and gets dragged off by the trolls, with enough time to cast an apologetic look to Kerry before disappearing. "Sense fear...? Ah... no, we're not, really..."

Kerry watches Douglas get dragged off... he doesn't think he wants to get that close to the gargoyle. He turns back to glance at the Aztekan priestess again, and twitches an eyebrow when he sees her looking back at him. The bat priestess regards Kerry steadily, with cool, dark eyes... then smiles faintly, not turning her calm gaze from the other bat as she murmurs something that makes the llama woman laugh softly, and turn to look at Kerry as well.

Kerry nods in acknowledgement to Xochihualpilli's slight smile as he continues to watch her. Interesting. The llama is favored, apparently. She's not afraid to look at me, or at the priestess. Not like Tenotch and Kualkan...or that poor capybara...

After the foreign bat does nothing more than stand there and stare for several seconds, the priestess sighs faintly. She looks away, apparently losing interest in Kerry, back towards the dancing and feasting. The llama, her head still resting on the couch next to the priestess, watches Kerry with amusement for several more seconds... then is distracted by her mistress holding out a claw hand for her goblet. Below the branch, the jaguars are keeping a wary eye out, but the goat turns his grizzled head to regard the foreign bat surreptitiously for a moment... then his lips quirk slightly and he also looks away.

Kerry shrugs. Okay, I missed something there. I wonder what... He turns to wander back toward the ale and the trolls. I wonder if that llama really is favored, though, or if it's a special dispensation. Can't very well keep milady's cup full if you're not allowed to look and see if it needs refilling, after all...


Annifred and Hauk introduce Douglas to trolls. Some of them he knows from home, others he remembers from Hallifred's trollhome. There are new ones from the farther warren, who are all older, larger, and tougher, but all seem just as happy to meet new people, with hugs and talk of adventures and exploration of feline fur. Eventually Annifred reclaims Douglas, "So, ja, Douglas, tell story for trolls, ja? They not know grand adventure!"

Douglas blinks at the request for the story. "Oh, gosh, uhm... Feina tells it so much better, and she taught the skalds of the Broken Horn trollhome, but... I'll tell it as best as I can..." He goes into the story, then. He tries to keep it the same as Feina's, albeit not nearly as entertaining since he's just telling it and not singing it. Still, he tries to steer clear of any untoward modesty in the telling.

Hauk and the other older trolls do indeed like Douglas, telling Annifred, "This nice fuzzy you got. You keep safe, ja?" She nods cheerfully. They have all sorts of questions about the adventure -- a few of the swanmay, a few of the Hunt, many more of the destruction of the Horn, and many, many questions about the labyrinth, including some exacting technical questions, and some questions about what the keeper looked like. "Wonder if we knew builder, ja?" one asks, and wants to know what color his tail tip fur was.


Blue is a little clingy, leaning against Vash... and the aunt thoughtfully regards the two of them, then suggests they should have a dance or two -- this is a party, after all! Vash smiles. "Excellent idea." He holds out his arm for Blue. "Shall we?"

Blue beams, "Oh, yes!"

Blue is very happy to dance with Vash... she leans against him, resting her head on his shoulder when the song allows. Vash dances with Blue for as long as she likes, supporting her gently when she needs to lean. He bends his head a little to whisper, "How're you doing?"

Blue sighs happily, tilting her head back enough to regard him. He can feel her body moving smoothly against him, and for a moment even the music fades back into non-importance, compared to the look in her shining eyes as she smiles softly up at him. The spicy, almost smoky scent of the wreath she's wearing tickles his nose lightly, mingling with the scent of her warmth and reminding him pleasantly of long walks and picnics they've had. Her voice is quiet, "I'm with you, sweetheart... things are always best then."

Vash smiles and leans down to gently kiss his sweetheart. "Good... that's all I wanted to hear." Blue sighs softly, one arm curling up around Vash's neck, and gladly kisses him for as long as he wishes. Color, movement, and music swirl and dance and laugh about them, a forgotten frame to the one long, dreaming moment of that kiss...


The boisterous trolls seem a little startled by the bat, but they realize he's with Douglas and let him through. He has little problem getting a tankard of the ale -- these are, after all, trolls -- but isn't made much of. He spies Hallifred and a couple of the others he met before, including Halldis, Gudrun, and Yngvar.

Kerry is a bit puzzled by the troll's aloofness, then worried. Uh-oh. If Annifred told them what Vash said... He swallows and heads determinedly for the clump around Hallifred. One way or the other, he'll find out. He pauses, and looks around for the cougar. Wait. If they're going to ignore me, they'll do a good job of it. Better let Douglas intercede for me.

Hallifred is sitting on a bench with a troll woman in his lap again and being quite cuddly, chuckling quietly at her. Gudrun and Yngvar aren't doing too much, though. Kerry locates the clump of trolls around Douglas and wanders in that direction, listening to the questions and answers and nodding to the cougar when there's enough of a break to get his attention.

Douglas is just finishing the story, at the part where the van is driving away from Drekaris' castle... though he makes it a little more interesting, with thunder smashing upon the tower, lightning flashing -- the wrath of the Wild Hunt unleashed against its former captor in unbridled fury -- rain crashing in sheets upon the road as they desperately, desperately rode a fast truck away from the doomed castle, not looking back...! -something to that effect. He's also answering questions as best as he can, trying to remember the ghost-troll's tail tip color... then he spots Kerry and smiles. "Hello, Pilot!" He makes introductions, "This is Kerry Skydancer, one of our team when we broke the Horn. Er, Pilot... do you remember what color the tail tip was of the troll in the labyrinth?"

Kerry looks blank. "I really have no idea. It was hard to see, remember? He went kind of fuzzy below the waist. Not that I can see color anyway..."

Douglas smiles sheepishly. "Ack... right. Uhm... I wish we could tell you," he tells the troll, "-but... we can't see colors..."

There's a little general consternation at that; the trolls are taken aback. Annifred pipes up with, "Different eyes like different feet, ja," and nods sagely. The others still all sort of seem surprised. While on that trend Annifred says, "But look! Fix tail!" and pokes Douglas to show off his tail.

Douglas erps! -and turns a bit, his ear tips blushing as he obligingly shows the tail. He feels acutely aware of its lack of fur right now. I look like a rat, he thinks jokingly, Or at least my tail does. Oh, well... fur'll grow back soon.

Kerry takes another look at Douglas' regenerating tail while it's the subject of conversation. "Looking good, Mr. Percival. All it needs is a bit of fur and you'll soon be good as new."

Douglas smiles quietly. "Thanks, Pilot. Hopefully that won't be long! It's..." His tail actually flirts a little, a little feline curl-and-swish. He laughs quietly. "It's just great!"

Annifred tells, "Nice cougar's tail lost in accident long ago. People where he come from not know how fix. University have good mages who grow back, ja!" She beams, "Look like troll tail now, but soon be all nice and furry again." Douglas feels several trollish hands reach out and explore this new and unusual thing. Annifred grins in his face.

Douglas blinks and looks a bit startled at the sudden contact, and can't help but grin back to Annifred, albeit sheepishly. "Ja... the mages are very good!"

Kerry smiles to himself as the quiet cougar becomes the center of attention. When the trolls finish petting Doug's tail, he continues. "Anyway. If you're all done with the story, I wanted to ask if you'd talked to Hallifred much yet. I thought we should thank him again for all the help he gave us on our adventure."

At least one hand roams a little bit, and someone wonders aloud, "Is furry everywhere?" Annifred grins and nods enthusiastically, "Ja, ja!"

Douglas's ear tips turn an almost bright shade of red if not for the fur covering his ears, but it's impossible not to take it all in good humor and fun. He's gotten to know the trolls too well to not like them no matter what they do, or how 'outré' it seems to be for the remains of his Earth sensibilities. Gosh, does nobody have any mind about proprietous talk here? Gah, Doug... this is not home, this is not home, this is not... "No, I hadn't talked with him at all, really, yet. I'd thought the night was young." He grins quietly. "I'll be back soon, everyone, shan't be long -- just going to greet Hallifred, the one who helped us so much!" He moves over to Kerry, nodding towards Hallifred. "I doubt he'll mind seeing us again, actually. I was going to say 'hi' to him and update him on everything tonight."

Kerry nods. "I was going to myself but... the trolls seemed to be ignoring me." He glances at Annifred. "I'm afraid they may have taken Vash's comments a little too seriously if they'd heard about that... or maybe there's some other subtlety I'm missing."

Annifred glances at the little bat, catching his comment between her laughing with someone else. She says calmly, "Not ignore. Done." She looks at him for a second... then shrugs, and looks back with a grin at the laughing troll patting Doug's furry rear.

Kerry nods ruefully and glances at Douglas. "See what I mean?"


Vash just holds Blue very close, and doesn't break the kiss until he absolutely has to. In the meantime, he turns with her gently, still dancing. That his eyes are closed doesn't matter; the rest of them may as well not be there anyway.

Blue's body is warm and lithe, pressed close against her beloved, his arms wrapped about her and her arms curled about his neck... she breaths rather deeply for a moment when he finally lifts his head to take a breath. He can see her eyes are still closed and her face is still up-turned, almost rapturous looking... when her eyes finally open she looks a bit dazed, almost sagging against her sturdier lover. Vash smiles a little. "You okay, Blue?"

It takes Blue a moment to pull herself together; her reply is a little breathless, "Uh... yeah... I... uh, could we sit a moment? I... think I'm a little dizzy...?"

Vash laughs softly. "Sure. Sure thing." He gently leads her by the hand to a nearby bench. "Here. Take it easy for a sec. It's pretty warm in there... don't want you to faint." He sits down carefully next to Blue, and squeezes her hand gently. "You sure you're all right?"

Blue leans a bit on Vash, her walk a touch unsteady, and sits down rather quickly on the bench. She holds Vash's hand quietly, her breathing evening out after a bit, and her slightly wondering gaze traveling from the dancers to Vash's face at his question. She studies him for a wide-eyed moment, as if she's re-memorizing him, then reaches her free hand out to lay it gently against his cheek. Her quiet whisper is as soft as her touch, "Goddess, Vashti, I love you so much it scares me sometimes..."

Vash smiles half-apologetically, tilting his head into the touch. "I love you too, Blue. But... don't be afraid, okay? I'm always going to be here for you. You don't ever need to worry. I'll protect you, no matter what."

Blue's lips part, her eyes almost luminous... then she smiles with gentle rue, "Oh, Vashti... you know I wouldn't ask that of you. I... it would be wrong of me to ask you to stop being a Hero. Just..." she bites her lip, then leans forward suddenly to hug him tightly. He can feel her face warm against his neck as she says huskily, "-come back to me, beloved. Don't forget, please? I'll... I'll keep a candle burning in the window for you. Just come back."

Vash nods softly, and curls his arms tightly around her. "I promise, Blue. I'll always come back." He leans his head against hers. "Always."


Douglas mmms softly as he walks towards Hallifred with Kerry, Annifred bounding gleefully ahead. He lowers his voice quietly. "Well, that's the answer. 'Done.' They're not ignoring you. I guess that's what they took Vash to mean. The trolls take everything literally. In fact... straight-shooting seems to be a virtue here, which a lot of people aspire to and achieve. Fortunately, here 'actions speak louder than words,' so just living up to the title of Hero should put you in good stead in time." He grins softly. "And like it or not, we are Heroes. You can hear them capitalize the word every time they say it. It may be a huge burden, but it's one we've got to live up to."

When they reach Hallifred, Annifred cries, "Hiya, Uncle Hallifred! Good see again, ja!" The old troll looks up from being cheerfully nuzzled and says, "Annifred!" He patpats his friend, who moves out of his lap, standing and stretching, while Hallifred gives Annifred a warm trollish hello hug/kiss/greeting. When he sets the giggling Annifred down he grins and says, "And hello heroes!" He gives Douglas a hug, and adds to Kerry with a tolerant grin, "Hiya, battie. You still ask too many questions?"

Kerry nods at Douglas. "I hope so." He grins, a bit relieved at Hallifred's welcome. "Sometimes. The Captain will probably stop by sometime, but he's busy meeting Blue's family right now. We thought we should let you know how things turned out, and thank you for all your help. We couldn't have done it without you."

Douglas returns the hug warmly and cheerfully -- he's getting better at troll greetings -- though of course without nearly the same strength. He wonders, as he embraces the older troll, if his skin feels a little less like stone now that the Horn is destroyed. Doug nods at Kerry's words. "Yes, thank you, Hallifred! It all ended very, very well!"

Hallifred grins a big toothy grin, "Is good, Douglas. You destroyed horn. We hoped just reclaim, keep safe. You do better. You always welcome at Deep Forest trollhome, ja." He gives Annifred and the other troll woman who's sat back down with him a squeeze,, and says, "No need tell you trolls sing songs of heroes, ja? You all do good." He says, "Even bat did good, is hero," and gives Kerry a grin, acknowledging that he's not ignoring the bat completely.

Douglas grins, "Thank you, Hallifred. How was your trip here? Any problems with the road or weather?" Kerry straightens up, a bit indignant. Even the bat did good? Hmm. Is he teasing me? He thinks better of saying anything, though, since he's certainly messed things up since.

Hallifred says, "Eh, trip okay. Rain three times, trucks went right out. More trucks, longer Gather, more trade. More hung up in ford river. But took more time. Did okay. Not lose anything, no trolls hurt, all good. And here now see family and Bald Mountain trolls." He grins widely, "That very good, ja!"

Douglas smiles and nods. "Ja, I'm glad to have met them! I'd never seen a gargoyle before. I'm glad your trip was okay, too."


Vash holds Blue very tightly. After awhile he realizes dimly that she's shaking... and there's a tiny rivulet of hot moisture against his neck where the armor plates meet fur. He leans back a little, studying Blue's face, then smiles apologetically. "Ah... I've made you cry again."

Blue gives Vash a shaky smile, "N-no, love... I c-can't help it, I j-just... I just never thought I'd feel so... so safe, so -- so good, so loved!" She sniffles, rubbing one hand against her cheek (and looking rather young and vulnerable as she does so), then smiles again, her eyes damp and her lips trembling a bit, "They're happy tears, Vashti, truly."

Vash laughs softly and hugs Blue again carefully. He kisses her cheek. "Okay. I won't apologize, then. How about I just stay here with you for awhile instead?"

Blue beams, then snuggles up against Vash, murmuring dreamily, "Long as you'd like to, love..."




Last modified: 2003-Nov-08 20:37:19

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