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Gathering Closer... and Closer...

    The first day of the Fall Gather is well underway, although there are many cheerful greetings as stragglers come in, and as people circulate to meet folks they haven't seen in a long time. Many groups linger around the edges of the clearing, talking and meeting one another. One end of the group has many trolls, from three trollhomes, and the other side has a lot of foxes, many more than are usually seen at one place. These unusual groups, in addition to the usual Gather crowd of humans, makes it even more festive, and a little louder than usual.

The sun is lowering in the afternoon sky; the long autumn day will continue a while before dark. The party will continue long after. Sakura is sticking fairly close to Larrikan, although she's also chatting and getting to know her newly formed clan as well. She seems to be enjoying herself quite a bit, now that the initial struggle between the foxes is over. Vash remains to one side with Blue, blissfully oblivious to the fact that there's a party going on, or that he's a hero, or what day it is, for that matter. Kerry waits for a lull in the chat with Douglas and the trolls, then nudges the cougar. "Would you ask Annifred if she can tell me what they mean by done?"

Annifred has gone off a little way, and is laughing at something and being hugged by a large troll from Bald Mountain, as Hallifred shows off his niece and tells of how it's her trollhome who found the Heroes who could destroy the Horn. As Sekk stands and watches, the big gargoyle on her shoulder hops down with a jarring noise, and creeps along the tabletop towards Douglas. She keeps an eye in its general direction.

Douglas is reasonably enjoying himself. For most of the first day he's been avoiding the 'librarians' as best as he can -- and he met the Bald Mountain trolls, which is always good, ja. The faint chill in the air is cool upon his still-mostly-non-furry tail, but he doesn't mind at all. He does look around for Annifred, mindful of wondering what 'done' to her means... and that's when he notices the gargoyle.

It's really a remarkable creature, this close. It almost looks to be made from stone itself, with a thick, leathery, hide and dusty-gray texture. He tries not to make a sudden movement, though it seems to be curious and exploring. He glances over to Sekk, who seems to be watching the 'goyle, and isn't worried about suddenly loosing an arm or an ear; he keeps his tail close to him all the same, though.

Kerry peers suspiciously at the gargoyle. He'd watched it earlier, nibbling on things that by rights should have been tough for a dragon to handle... though the trolls don't seem alarmed. On the other hand, the trolls are a lot sturdier than I am.... Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, he keeps Douglas between himself and the creature.

The gargoyle seems to be a quadrupedal creature, although it'll sit back on its haunches and pick things up with its forepaws, rather like a squirrel. Its body is only about the size of a small-to-medium sized dog, maybe three feet long, although its tail is another six or eight feet long -- almost prehensile, with a speared tip. It often wraps the tail around something to give itself extra stability as it stands on hind feet to reach or see something. Also confusing about the gargoyle are its wings -- huge, sweeping, gray wings, which it deftly manages not to knock things over with, each easily six feet across, although usually closely furled. Its face is curious and alert, but a bit foreboding, with a long, pointed beak or snout, with which it nibbles at things and sniffs around. Its movements aren't quite mustelid, or feline, or canine... it's just a little... different. It's watching Douglas again.

Douglas blinks as it looks at him. Careful, Doug, don't startle it or make it think you're edging in on its territory. Then again, it's probably never seen someone like you... except as a snack in the mountains. Oh, that's a cheery thought... Nevertheless, he remembers some of the one-credit PSYC157 'Uplift Instincts' class, and tries not to look directly into the gargoyle's eyes, as amazed as he is by its shape and form. And that tail -- prehensile? The speared tip is certainly nasty looking. He wonders if it can fly. If so, it's large but maybe not terribly massive. He wonders if he's going to find out without it trying to gnaw on him.

A plate of cheese distracts the gargoyle. It nibbles several bits and sniffs all about, perhaps looking for other things to eat. Douglas arches an eyebrow. So, it's omnivorous. It didn't devour that whole side of cheese, so maybe it's not hungry, just snacking. He holds his tail a little closer, glancing towards Sekk, who is distracted by someone hugging her. She's distracted. Now, if my experience on Crossroads has taught me anything, this is precisely when Something Happens...

Something happens. The gargoyle finds a heel of bread, sits back on its haunches, and eats it down to the last crumb.

Larrikan is all too happy to dance with Sakura, at least once everyone has been introduced, and has had a chance to congratulate the vixen on her courage in starting a new clan. Aedaith also manages to find Bandé and they're dancing too, rather closely.

Sakura blushes at Larrikan. "Well. I didn't really mean to start a new clan. It just sort of... happened."

Larrikan smiles and says, "It's a big responsibility, you know. You'll be expected to help work out disputes between clan members, and with other clans, and to be responsible for the actions of the clan." He dances a little more, then smiles happily at her and says, "I'm sure it won't be a problem for a hero like you, though."

Sakura looks a little nervous. "Well. I hope that a small clan won't have any of those problems..."

Larrikan chuckles and says, "It might have more of them, if older clans feel that the clan is encroaching on their lands or areas." He strokes Sakura's ears gently, adding, "You'll do fine, I'm sure. I think there will be plenty of people who'll be willing to help." With a gentle nuzzle, he adds, "Me, for instance."

Sakura grins, "Thank you, Larrikan..."

Larrikan says, "I'm sure you won't have any problem. Usually the clan leader is only called for things that are really serious, and it doesn't usually go farther than an Outcasting." He dances a little more as he says reassuringly, "I can only think of a handful of duels or executions that I've seen."

Sakura stops dancing, "Executions?!?"

Vash and Blue are interrupted by an urgent stage whisper behind them, "Hey! We're on a mission! Have you guys seen Cousin Cammie?!"

Vash opens one eye, and murmurs, "Not recently, soldier."

There's an excited gasp and some cheerful sotto-voce gabbling, then a moment later two active, wiry little bodies clamber swiftly onto the bench Blue and Vash are sitting on -- and, to some degree, on Vash and Blue also, since it's not the biggest of benches. It's the twins, who excitedly ask (frequently babbling over each other to do so), "Are we really soldiers? Can we be your soldiers?! Ooh, this is great -- Uncle Harting was right, you really are the coolest! He says our orders are to haunt Cousin Cammie, 'cause he's a doody-head and he's jealous of Cousin Blue but we're not s'pposed to tell him that 'cause he's a doody-head anyways -- can we get our pictures drawn with you guys too? Can we wear uniforms and salute and all that really really neat stuff?!"

Vash sighs a little and sits up, rubbing his eyes. "Right. Well, if your uncle gave you your orders, then he's your commanding officer, and you have to listen to what he tells you, okay? You should carry out your orders as fast as possible, and hound your cousin as much as possible tonight."

The twins listen in wide-eyed fascination, and one of them -- Marta? it's hard to tell -- with her mouth also hanging open... and then they both nod briskly, hug the two lovers exuberantly, assure them they have nothing to worry about -- no doody-heads will even dare to approach while they're on duty! -and then they both scamper off, calling stage-whispered instructions to each other on where to search out the hapless Cousin Cammie. Blue giggles softly, watching them, her eyes shining, and murmurs to Vash, "Cammie really is a spoiled brat... but Marta and Mica are darlings. I hope- er..." She pauses, giving Vash a slightly uncertain glance, then just smiles and leans against him again, "I hope you like my family, love."

Vash grins, watching them go, and squeezes Blue gently, an arm around her waist. "Of course I do, Blue." He leans his head against hers and closes his eyes again. "Though... I can't guarantee your cousin'll survive the night with those two on his tail..." He chuckles, low in his throat. "Poor guy."

The gargoyle finishes its bready devouring and says, "Skeeep." It curls up in a ball on the table and seems to doze there, satiated for the moment. Kerry peeks out from behind Douglas. "Okay... it seems to be harmless for the moment."

Well, Douglas thinks calmly, So much for it not being hungry. Man, that's a fast eater. But I'm sure it's safe -- I mean, Sekk wouldn't bring it to a Gathering if it ate, well, non-trolls. He relaxes, though, when the gargoyle curls up. He has to grin. "Now isn't that just so cute?" he comments. Maybe the trolls have rubbed off on him more than he thought. He looks to Pilot and nods. "Let's not wake it, though! While Sekk's gargoyle naps, I'll be right back -- I need to ask Annifred something..." Douglas stands and meanders towards Annifred, leaving Kerry approximately six feet from the rather cute sleeping bundle of an air-mobile steel shredder/jerky tenderizer.

Larrikan mmhmms, then says, "Yes. They rarely happen, and usually only when the humans demand it in form of 'justice' and have really good proof that this particular fox did something to them." With a grin, he adds, "They don't usually have any proof, you see." He tries to nudge the vixen into dancing some more, or at least out of harm's way, saying, "If it's something just among the clans, an Outcasting is usually enough."

Sakura looks relieved. "I don't think I could execute someone, Larrikan." She distracts herself by joining back in the dance. Executions aren't worth worrying about right now.

Larrikan resumes dancing, and tries to stroke the lovely vixen gently into relaxing, saying, "Oh, I'm sure you'd do fine if it came to it. You fought evil monsters; you should have no problems slitting a trapped rascal, right?" He adds, "An Outcasting is much less messy. And you don't have to watch them die."

Sakura shudders. "Let's deal with that when it comes up... I don't even want to think about it!"

Larrikan frowns a little, then says, "All right, lovely one. Tomorrow -- maybe the next day, depending on how much effort they decide to put into the ceremony -- they'll be asking if you're able to perform all the duties of the clan leader, and that is one of them, as infrequent as it may be." He kisses Sakura's cheek and says, "I know you'll do the right thing, though."

Sakura nods at Larrikan. "I suppose that will be the price. I'll deal with it if it ever comes up." Larrikan smiles and relaxes into the dance some more, snuggling close to Sakura, thinking, Of course you will, but he doesn't say any more to upset his partner. Sakura dances with Larrikan and tries not to fret about punishing clan-mates.

Annifred is sitting in a big, old troll's lap, talking cheerfully about something, and being friendly. She says, "Douglas!" and beams at him.

Douglas smiles warmly. A human unused to trolls might be jealous; Doug's just curious as to who the big troll is. "Hello, Annifred! The Gather's going well!"

Annifred says, "Ja, is good! Not know Bald Mountain come! Not know Hallifred's elders; glad to meet." She introduces Douglas to Kol, the troll she's sitting on or with, who grins toothily and waves, "Ja, hi, Douglas! Annifred tell about Heroes!" Annifred grins, adding, "You met Sekk, ja? See cute gargoyle?"

Douglas smiles to Kol. "Hi, Kol! I'm glad to meet you!" He nods to Annifred. "Ja, the gargoyle is incredible -- I've never seen one before. Are they only found at Bald Mountain?"

Annifred grins, "Only on high mountains. I not see before." Kol chuckles, "You go play with friend, Anni. I going for beer, go see others from Deep Forest." He gives her a big squeeze, adding, "Be good, ja?" She grins and returns the see-you-later-hug, then hops down to Douglas.

Douglas smiles to Kol, grinning as the troll ambles off. "It's really been great meeting the Bald Mountain trolls," he says. Then he gets a little serious. "Anni, there was something I was wondering about. When you said 'done,' regarding Kerry earlier, what did you mean?"

Annifred collects Douglas and says, "Ooh! Kyerno!" The gargoyle sits up and looks around when it hears its name. Annifred answers Doug's question as she leads him over towards the quiescent gargoyle, "Oh. Vash say he done with him. First Annifred think bat outcast, but Douglas, Vash not acting like outcast, so I see then it just unhappy, maybe on probation."

Kyerno says, "Skeep?" and looks around. It sees many trolls moving around, a table full of nibblies it's already explored... and a bat. Kerry looks up as the gargoyle wakes up. Short naps the thing takes. He watches it carefully. Very carefully. The gargoyle moves to the edge of the table and leans over the edge in Kerry's direction. Kerry backs away as the gargoyle leans toward him, and tries to imitate its call. "Skeep?" Looming over the edge of the table, Kyerno reminds Kerry strongly of the classic gargoyles from that ancient cathedral in Notre Dame... very strongly, in fact, from that overhead angle.

Douglas nods quietly, cheerfully letting himself be taken over to the gargoyle. "Okay. 'Probation' sounds about right. Thanks, Annifred, I was just wondering!" He blinks, seeing the gargoyle sit up and look around. Kyerno? I wonder if that means anything in a Crossroads language? Something like 'Tree-Mulcher'...

Annifred says, "Nice Kyerno!" It looks over at her, then walks along the edge of the table to her, sniffing and looking eager. Annifred says, "See, he nice, Douglas!" The "nice" gargoyle holds out a forepaw and reaches for Douglas, saying, "Skeep?" again. It looks as harmless as a nightmare creature can.

Douglas blinks in surprise at the gargoyle's forepaw-offer. He gingerly reaches towards the offered paw, not quite grabbing it in his own hand, but curling his fingers underneath the gargoyle's paw, to let it clutch or let go (or shred, he realizes too late) as it will. He has to admit that his earlier comment that it was cute is still accurate, as threatening and nightmarish as it is; it would give toddlers untold nightmares if they hadn't grown up with one. Maybe it's something about the eyes.

Kerry looks relieved as the troll distracts the critter. He wanders back and looks more closely at it while Annifred is holding it. "Fascinating creature. Is it really made out of rock?"

Douglas grins sheepishly at his own worry. Annifred certainly isn't nervous about it, and she's not made of stone. "Hi, Kyerno," he says cheerfully.

Kyerno skeeps happily and leaps onto Douglas' arm to climb him, holding on with all four feet. It settles on his shoulder, twining its tail about him to hold on, and sniffs around his ears, making the oddest little noises. Annifred claps delightedly and says, "He like you, Douglas!" She grins and adds, "He smart, ja?"

Kerry grins. "He certainly looks friendly enough."

The troll answers Kerry's question, saying, "No, not made of rock. Is just little critter, ja?" When she sees that Douglas is tied up (almost literally) for a moment, she leans over to the bat and adds softly, "Bat know bat not make people very happy, ja?" Before the Keero has time to say anything, she says just to Kerry, "If bat get Douglas hurt, Annifred eat bat." She grins at him with intent showing all her teeth.

Douglas tries -- he really, really tries -- not to give a start as the gargoyle scrambles onto him with remarkable speed and agility. He feels the tail, python-like, wrap around him for balance or additional purchase. The sniffing about his ears is certainly not unpleasant, though the last time that he felt that it was a troll doing the nuzzling, and not something he was worried about considering his ears to be a snack. Still, Annifred is anything but worried, so he relaxes, not worrying anymore, and just looking at the gargoyle with interest.

Annifred straightens up from murmuring to Kerry, her smile fading to normal as she focuses on Kyerno again, "Hi, nice gargoyle!" She waggles her fingers at it, then adds, "Now, gargoyle not put tail around pretty-feets' neck; he need neck, ja?" as she tries to help Douglas untangle himself a little, although she isn't trying to take the gargoyle away from him. It obviously has the good taste to like Doug, and who would she be to discourage that?

Doug's discovered that the gargoyle's actually a pretty heavy fellow, relatively -- much more massive than a Keero. If Doug were back home, he'd have serious doubts as to Kyerno's ability to fly. As it is, that's no guarantee that he can't fly here. The gargoyle's beak is heavy, and large... and is actually lightly nibbling at Doug's ears. Hopefully finding them not quite so tasty as... er, whatever it is that gargoyles eat. Which is likely anything! Annifred's work on disengaging the gargoyle's tail is appreciated; he's not so unbalancing as to be uncomfortable, but the grip in his tail...! It's incredibly strong, almost starting to hurt. Annifred's admonition that it not get around his neck is really understandable.

Kerry starts, just a little, at Annifred's words. He sweeps a bow then, the formal one. "I... understand, Annifred. I did something very stupid the other night, and you and Douglas came out to look for me. I apologize to you for putting you to all that trouble, and I'll try not to do anything that stupid again."

Annifred looks at Kerry and nods, saying, "Ja. Good," before she goes back to playing with cat and gargoyle.

Vash and Blue are just getting warm and snuggled up again, when a low, amused voice behind them purrs, "Found 'em, dear. Guess what they're doing." Blue starts -- then says with laughing accusation, "Aunt Wolflady, you know that makes us all jump when you sneak up like that!"

Vash opens one eye. Again. I'm not going to get three contiguous minutes alone with her, am I. No, of course not, that's just crazy talk. He sighs a little, "Hello, Aunt... Wolflady. Didn't hear you there." He doesn't jump, of course... he's got to be the hero at least while the family is in town.

It's actually the sturdy, bearded man introduced as Uncle Harting that Vash sees first, grinning cheerfully as he strides up from behind them into the light. He chuckles, a warm rumble, and says, "Sorry about that, kids... she loves doing that." He grins with warm affection at the shadowy woman leaning against the tree next to Vash, who is sniffing with slight interest at the armadillo, and adds, "We won't bother you long, kids. Just wanted to invite you to the family card game and get-together we'll be having later... probably be on Hangover Day. Nothing stressful, just a chance for you to meet the adults of the family under slightly less, ah... noisy circumstances -- everyone wants to talk to Blue's nice young man."

The woman grins wolfishly, "Same as they wanted to meet me, eh, dear?" Harting laughs, shaking his head in amusement, "You unrepentant wolf!" She grins again, winking at Vash -- he could swear he just felt a furry tail draw across his?! -and then she purrs quietly to the man before them, "Let's go dance some more now, hmm?" He grins, offering his arm, which she takes with swift, sleek closeness, and the two of them rapidly disappear into the shadows again... away from the light and music and dancing, oddly enough...

At some point during the night Kerry looks over at the branch where the Aztekan lady's brocaded couch is -- and sees the branch now elevated to its normal high height, and the couch covered and empty. Looking around, Kerry spots a small procession heading towards Aykuh's oak and the Silver Egg. One jaguar stalks ahead and one behind, while Sergeant Tenotch strides to the side, looking about with grave alertness. Between the honor guard of jaguars the cloaked, graceful Xochihualpilli treads in stately form by herself. She is trailed by the tall, willowy Tzala, who carries several beautifully decorated blankets and bags in her arms.

    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 feather-work 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.

Kerry has been keeping a surreptitious watch on the Aztekans during the evening, and notices Xochihualpilli making her procession back toward the Egg. He opens his mouth, thinking about calling her a 'good evening' in the ultrasonic language -- but he's not sure if it would translate just to the priestess or not -- or if she knows the local language herself. And it might be considered rude, for that matter. Ah, well. I'll wait for a bit, and maybe go in myself. If she wants to talk to me, she'll send someone to find me.

The evening wears on without much else of note happening. People meander off as early or as late as they like, happy and confident that there's two more days of Gather to find everyone, dance, and eat their fill.

The dawn comes, fine and clear, and the Gather resumes, with people talking, meeting, and happy to see one another. The booths are not open yet, but small cook-fires turn up as people make a light morning meal for themselves and those they know. Sakura comes into the Egg fairly early in the morning, looking like she hasn't had a wink of sleep for one reason or another. She settles herself into a chair and yawns.

Kawaii is sprawled on his back, trotters in the air, on the hearth by the fire. His little trailing wreath of ivy and wheat looks rather nibbled on, to be honest. He's still asleep, as can be heard by his small, somehow-busy-sounding snores. Kerry stayed up rather late, eventually falling asleep hanging from the ceiling of the Egg's common room. He wakes up much earlier in the morning than he'd planned, as others who'd gone to bed earlier start moving around.

Douglas awakens in the trollhome, yawning and stretching. He doesn't feel quite as how he did in that first Gather, but then again there's still two more days remaining. He's enjoying himself as much as, if not more than, he did with the previous Gather. Then again, the pall of Drekaris and the Horn isn't hanging over us!

He makes his way to the Egg, probably feeling more awake than he has any right being, but he's mindful of being loud and cheerful when he enters the Egg's room and sees Sakura looking exhausted. "Good morning, Sakura-chan," he says cheerfully, but hopefully not so cheerfully that he's slated for justifiable homicide by the vixen. He glances to the fireplace and grins at the sleeping boar-let.

Vash wanders into the Egg wearing his kilt and his boots... and that's about it. He slumps down by the fire and stares at it for awhile, waiting for his brain to turn over into idle. Zildjian slithers slowly through the light crowd, setting down bowls of hot porridge, mugs of hot chocolate, plates of bread, sliced fruits, and cheese, and other edibles. She's having trouble not yawning hugely herself -- which is rather alarming, considering the jaw spread she's capable of. Sakura says, "Are you all enjoying the gather?"

Doug is even more careful when Vash walks in and looks like he got no hours' sleep. "And good morning to you, Captain." He doesn't immediately notice Kerry sleeping in the rafters; he's never been able to, actually.

Kerry opens one eye, winces, and slips his goggles over his face. "So far. You look like you got less sleep than I did, Doctor."

Douglas smiles, "Yes, actually. It's always enjoyable." He blinks and looks up at the voice, grinning. "And good morning to you as well, Pilot. Sorry, didn't see you up there."

Sakura smiles at Douglas, "Glad that you're enjoying it."

Douglas says, "And you? There was some excitement yesterday, I hope that's all settled down now?"

Vash looks up abruptly. "Uh. Yeah. Hey! Douglas. What's up, Doug..."

Sakura says, "Well. I seem to have inherited a clan. Or rather, formed a new one..."

Douglas smiles to the lamia quietly. Mindful that he seems to be one of the only ones mostly awake, he says quietly, "Good morning, Zildjian..."

Kerry waves a wing nonchalantly at Doug and drops to the floor. "Where else would I be? And thanks again for finding out what Annifred thought 'done' meant."

Douglas nods to Kerry. "No problem at all, Pilot!" He helps a little, sliding mugs of something hot and steaming to both Sakura and Vash. "Not much, Captain, just enjoying the Gather." He nods, smiling to Sakura. "There was some talk about it. I hope that goes very well for you, Sakura-chan. Er... wait, does that mean it's 'Sakura-san' now?"

Vash inhales deeply before blowing the steam from his cup. "You're the man, Doug."

Douglas grins quietly to Vash, and can't help but to say, "I only gave it to you, Captain. So I'm hoping beyond hope that it's actually coffee, or at least hot chocolate."

Sakura wraps her hands around the mug and takes a sip. "No, no... It's still Sakura-chan or Saki, Douglas... no need for it to be formal between friends, that is."

Doug nods quietly and a little solemnly to Sakura, smiling quietly. "Thank you."

A human comes in, looking bright-eyed, alert, and well rested. He goes over and orders a big mug of hot tea. It's not until that's done that he turns around, and people realize it's Strander, one of the other foreigners. Kerry greets Zildjian, then turns to see Strander enter. He looks nervously at the others, then straightens up. Strander smiles and waves, then walks over to the small group of uplifts, "Hello! How are you all? Are you having a good time at the Gather?"

Sakura nods at Strander. "Yes, very."

Kerry nods. "They're always enjoyable."

Vash takes a deep drink before standing up. Oh shit. Now I gotta sober up. "Howdy."

Doug notices Strander enter. Oh, hell, he thinks. This is bad timing if ever there was. And he's a morning person, too. Heavens help him. He stands as well, and nods politely. "Good morning. Yes, the Gathers are always a lot of fun..."

Strander looks a bit uncertain as the armadillo stands, then essays a polite bow, "Er... how-dee." He straightens again, then grins, "May I sit with you all?" His accent is a little different than the group is used to hearing, 'past' the speaking tone of the translators. It reminds them a little of the Sphynx' accent, in fact.

Douglas glances to Vash, to let him make the call. Vash nods, "Sure thing, bro. Have a seat."

Strander seats himself and is polite enough to confine his early morning cheer to Doug mostly, chatting happily about how nice it is to meet so many unusual new people at the Gathers, and what a good chance Gathers are to observe such interesting rituals and celebrations... he pauses, glancing at the others at the table, then adds quietly, "Uncontaminated societies are always so much more healthy and happy than ones where tech-envy is dominating, don't you think?"

Vash says, "Hard to be envious of somethin' that makes you retch."

Douglas's smile is a bit forced as he hears that, and his jaw works a little, wondering what the proper response could be. Is that a dig at us? Or is it something else? Wait... I don't think he's referring to us as contaminants, not as a counter to 'tech-envy.' Odd... He nods in agreement to Vash.

Strander gives Vash a surprisingly relieved glance, and nods, "We so agree! The problem, of course, is that sometimes cultural contamination happens in ways we don't even realize we're doing, if we're well-meaning but untrained in societal research... and so, despite one's best efforts, one can end up harming the very people one would like to help." He glances around again, a bit hopefully, and adds, "Do you all agree? Does that make sense to you, I hope?"

Vash says, "Why don't you come out and say what you're trying to say, Strander." Sakura just gives the human a curious look... And if you call me a 'contamination' one more time, I'm going to do something unpleasant to you. I've got a whole bag of medical instruments to choose from. Douglas wonders what the hell this guy is trying to say, and doesn't like it. No, sir. He lets Vash do the talking for now.

Kerry twitches his wings, but lets Vash do the talking. Oh, of course we can't contaminate the poor primitives. Feh. The folks of Crossroads are as healthy as our societies, if not more so, and they're not envious of technology -- magic does the same job for them. Hybrid vigor is superior to stagnation.

Strander studies the armadillo for a slow moment... then nods, "All right. Hulen and I would like to invite you all to our home -- our homeworld, that is. We think we've guessed what Gate realm you're from, and we'd like to both offer you all personally the societal training so that you don't accidentally hurt this society -- we can tell you all care about it as much as we do -- and we'd like to give you the offer to your world, to join the Federation of Civilizations."

Vash doesn't give any outward reaction. "That's a kind offer, but I can't speak for my planet. I'll have to take it up with the Company when they get here." Kerry manages to suppress a look of horror at that offer. Bozhemoi. What ever possessed me to think these folks were worth assisting? And I babbled enough to them to let them guess where Home is, unless they're bluffing. What have I done!?

Douglas blinks, giving a start and straightening at Strander's words. The first thought on his mind is, Damn, they know where home-Earth is! His second is, We care about it more than you do, guy, this is our home. His third is, What damage was going to be made to this place is well and done with. We had to do what we had to do, for a lot of reasons, the main one being this is home, but also because Drekaris had the Alshain. He remains quiet, however. Now is not the time for an outburst, even though Doug is starting to get a bit twitchy.

Sakura looks at Vash, then at her other crewmates. She looks a little nervous... Vash is still looking directly at Strander, standing deadly still. His drink's grown cold.

Strander blinks, then takes a slow breath, "More are coming? Oh, dear." He frowns, thinking... then nods, "All right. We hadn't realized you were expendables. We thought you were the First Contact team, empowered to make deals." He pauses, then says softly and with apparent sincerity, "I'm sorry. We thought we had some good things to offer you as a group, in particular." He thinks a moment, then adds hopefully, "Well... even if your home world considers you expendables, maybe they'll agree to join the Federation anyway! After all, we don't condone that sort of treatment of sapients." He smiles... then tilts his head slightly, regarding the still armadillo, "Is... something wrong?"

An actual, cougar-like, feline roar of outrage rises in Doug's throat... but he swallows it back. The outrage, the sheer affrontery... is unfortunately correct. They are expendable, he reminds himself. He's been here on Crossroads for so long, thinking of it as home, where life is life, that he's forgotten what life is like back home...

And the bit Strander goes on about home-Earth joining the Federation... Earth-home considers us expendable... so naturally they'll want to join a Federation which doesn't condone the denigrating of minorities. Oh, makes perfect and total sense... I wish we could have destroyed the Gate here. As irrational a thought as that is.

Sakura blinks audibly, 'EXPENDABLES'?!?! First he calls us contaminations... now he calls us expendable. I've heard about enough from Mr. Personality here. Vash shakes his head and sits back down by the hearth. "No, but I think some of my crew takes offense to the 'contaminant' phraseology. Lemme just say that what we've done here, we did out of necessity. That's all I have to say about that."

Strander looks around worriedly, "Oh, dear... I am so sorry!" His eyes light on the slightly bristly vixen, and he looks faintly guilty. He rises, bowing deeply to her, and murmurs in her home tongue, "<<Dear lady, please forgive my cultural ignorance. I am ashamed to admit all I know of your lovely home is the language... not how to properly apologize for my clumsiness.>>"

Douglas only nods tightly at Vash's statements... then blinks in surprise at what sounds like an apology. Sakura blinks again and switches immediately to Japanese. "<<How do you know my language?>>" Vash sits back on the hearth bench, one arm over the back, and drinks his coffee.

Strander straightens and smiles hopefully at Sakura. He starts to speak in Japanese, "<<I am a lingui- er...>>" He looks around, then adds to Sakura, "<<I do not wish to compound my error, gracious lady. Is Japanese appropriate for everyone here?>>"

Sakura shakes her head, "<<No. I'm the only one who speaks it. English or the local language, please. Those are 'our' languages.>>"

Douglas blinks. That... sounds an awful lot like Japanese. He taps the translator. The thing isn't translating what they're saying, so he looks quizzically back to the two. Sakura smiles at Douglas, "He was apologizing for causing offense, Douglas. He'll switch to English or the local tongue so we can all understand."

Kerry whispers to Douglas, "I think that's Japanese. The translators don't know that one yet."

Douglas's ears semaphore a bit and he nods to Sakura slowly, still looking confused. He blinks to Kerry and nods thoughtfully. "Thanks, Pilot. Interesting..."

Strander nods and switches to English, clarifying for everyone, "Your doctor has referred to people as 'name'-chan, and so I guessed she spoke the language called Japanese, and apologized for offending her. When she asked me how I knew the language, I was about to reply that I am a linguist on my homeworld, and studying the fascinating language variations that exist here." He adds enthusiastically, "There's really a tremendously confusing spread pattern, you know -- we can't figure out just how they- er..." He blinks, realizing he's losing his audience, and blushes faintly, "Er, excuse me... professional curiosity..."

Douglas can't resist; he smiles cheerfully as the linguist slips into shoptalk. He's done it often enough himself. He actually managed to put his roommate and said roommate's girlfriend in college to sleep by starting in on strengths of materials. Kerry smiles, though it doesn't reach his eyes... it's probably a good thing they're hidden behind dark glass. "Quite understandable. We've found this world fascinating ourselves."

Vash just nods, taking a long drink. "Yeah, we can't either. 'S'why we got these." He holds up his hanging forearm, with the translator around it.

Strander obviously pulls himself together mentally, and continues earnestly, "I really did not think of you all as contaminants -- please believe me! I was referring more to how easy it is to divert a cultural stream with new ideas that the locals would not have come up with themselves -- and cultural diversity is so precious!" He blinks at the translator, then brightens, "Oh, yes! Those are quite unique -- how fortunate for you all that you have them!" He grins a little sheepishly, "Took us forever to pick up enough to communicate, initially!"

Douglas thinks, Odd, I wonder why they never thought to get translators themselves? "It was a bit of a... well, quest to get them, but it was certainly worth it..."

Strander nods enthusiastically, "Oh, yes, we've heard about those!" He beams, "We would love to hear your quest stories, if at some point you are not all busy -- we haven't quite been able to correlate yet how the energy sources known as magic work here."

Douglas blinks. "I... don't think they can be studied that way, really. I'm a professional engineer, and some of the things we've seen... well, defy any laws of physics." He adds, "Or anything remotely empirical." Kerry doesn't say anything about what he's learned from Dow. He took long enough to figure it out, and that was with help. He's not at all in the mood to give these folks any more clues.

Strander says, "I'm certain it's just an effect we don't understand. If you ask one of the natives they'll tell you that flight is magical, unless you've got wings, but we all know that we can build an aircraft. Once they understand that kind of physics, I'm certain they'll be able to build them, too." He smiles, adding, "What we don't yet understand is the part that appears to defy physics. We would like to study that further before we become involved and risk damaging their cultural integrity."

Vash says, "I'd be more worried about damaging them."

Douglas frowns, slowly. "Er... pardon? How do you mean, involved?" He starts to have a faint, gnawing sensation, deep in his stomach. Oh, dear Heaven... don't let it mean what I think it means... "Have you been to the Nippon in this world yet, by any chance?" he asks casually. He's not sure what's there either, but he's reasonably sure that any place which "killed their gods" is not a place he wants to visit.

Another thought comes through his mind: Oh, Lordy, keep this guy away from the Aztekans -- they'll have his heart for tinder, his bones for toothpicks, and his blood for a late-night aperitif! Pause for a mind-kitten-sized whack to the head. Er... that was so graphic, it bothered me.

Strander nods seriously to Vash, "Yes, that too. This world is, as far as we can tell, unique in its species compositions. To be careless of such a well-balanced range of ecosystems would be a terrible crime." He turns to Doug, explaining with a little embarrassment, "Er... involved, like you and your teammates are. We... are a little shyer of that sort of closeness. We don't know if we know enough yet to do that without emotional turmoil to whomever the various native individuals are that our team might become intimate with."

Douglas fidgets a little. Well, at least they're not planning on 'educating the primitives.' At least as far as he's saying. "Er, yeah, well... ahem..."

Vash says, "Been watching awhile, I see."

Strander adds a bit wistfully, "I so envy you all your adoptions..." then turns to Douglas, "No, we've avoided landing in the United States of Nippon. We don't understand how it works in such variance with the established norms on this world... and our First Commandment of Exploration is that first and foremost, we must do no harm!"

Douglas says quietly, "We've been told that they killed their gods." Partly to inform Strander. Partly to make some point or another. But mostly to see what the guy's reaction is. Vash just smirks, looking into his coffee, and takes another long drink. Adoptions. Dios mio.

Kerry clears his throat. "Our working hypothesis is that this not only represents local legend, but is in fact literally true." Douglas blinks, looking over to Kerry for a moment, then nods quietly and soberly.

Strander nods, "Yes, we've heard that too. We're not sure how that relates to the associated cosmologies... classically one sees a rough mirror of the 'as above, so below' paradigm. However, the society still exists -- it is..." He pauses, listening to the bat, then raises an eyebrow and smiles, "Er... all right. We've seen evidence of powerful localized energy fluctuations, but we're not sure we'd quite qualify those yet as... deities... er..." He looks suddenly thoughtful, "Have you?"

Kerry skrees, "Depends on how you define deities, neh? But something of extreme power is governing this world."

Douglas blinks a bit, then says wryly, "As effects, not sources, in my humble opinion. What kind of energies?"

Strander opens his mouth to answer Doug, then pauses, thinking... then blushes faintly again, "Er... I'm so sorry, Douglas, I don't know -- that's not my field of expertise, I'm afraid. I'm the linguist." He grins ruefully, "However, if you have questions about languages -- those I can answer? -and a few of the cultural ones?" He adds cheerfully, "And, while I know there are still questions unanswered in the engineering and physics sections of our team, I bet they'll figure things out eventually -- we have several noted scholars from a variety of worlds and species working on these questions!"

Douglas grins quietly and nods. And I think your scholars are going to be working on those questions for many, many, many years. If not decades. At least until they start opening your minds, like Pilot has started to with Dow's 'higher maths.' "I understand. I didn't mean to put you on the spot like that. It's just... our experience that many things here outright defy classical and empirical study." He changes the topic slightly: "If you don't mind my asking, how did your people find their Gate? How many, er, Gate-cultures are in the Federation?"

Let's see, if I remember right, there's twenty gates, that means twenty other 'Earths' plus Crossroads... And, left unsaid but haunting about near the front of his mind, a question his mental voice is deliberately padding around agitatedly and cautiously about: What happened with your Third World War?

Strander thinks for a while, then smiles and shrugs, "Er... well, while I'm not up on the ancient history of that particular system, I believe the Gate was discovered shortly before the world unified itself under a single government, so that it could join the Federation of Civilizations. To my knowledge there's only one solar system in our quadrant of space that has a star Gate... it caused a great deal of excitement in the Federation, I know. Of course, that was long ago, and the Federation was much smaller then."

Kerry looks up, suddenly interested in spite of himself. "Your uni... Federation has FTL drives?" Strander smiles and nods.

Douglas blinks a bit. We were wrong. It's not a Gates-spanning government. Earth joined an interstellar government in their universe. Holy shamolie, is there something similar in ours? He glances to Kerry. Is it possible that such a thing could work in ours? We could give home-Earth the stars! They wouldn't have to poke through the Gates! Wait... wait, wait, wait! Why am I suddenly thinking that an FTL drive, what must be the pinnacle of technology's triumph, would be absolute and total anathema to Crossroads...?

Kerry skrees to Strander, "Have you ever taken an FTL drive ship through one of the Gates?"

Strander grins at the bat and shrugs, "No idea. I don't fly them -- I just ride in them."

Kerry smiles and nods. "Fair enough." Again, the glasses cover the fact that the smile doesn't reach his eyes. Like you'd not know what kind of ship you traveled on. I think you're lying again, Federationer.

Vash stands up and moves down a few benches. He bends down and holds a cup of coffee near Zildjian's nose. Zildjian is still for a long, long moment -- she's sleepily curled by the fire, with that disoriented, tired look that says it's still way too early and cold for reptilians! Finally her half-closed nictitating membranes flutter slightly and her tongue flicks out, scenting the coffee. She hisses something in soft sleepiness. Vash murmurs softly, "Hey. Looks like you could use this."

Zildjian groans softly, her pupils trying to compensate for bright firelight on one side and relative dimness on the other, and props herself slowly up with one arm. She gazes woozily at Vash for a moment, her soft, smooth tongue flickering out gradually across the coffee mug and his hand a few times as she tries to identify who is standing so close... then finally she smiles slowly, "Hey... Vashti... hi. Uh... yeah..." She reaches languidly for the coffee mug with her free hand.

Vash waits until it looks like Zildjian's got her sights aligned before he relinquishes the cup. "Yeah, I know. 'S'cold this morning."

Douglas glances over to Zildjian and frowns deeply. The lamia was just wandering around relatively fine, if sleepy, not too long ago. He stands and moves over to her, crouching beside her. "Zil? Are you okay?"

Zildjian is currently slowly gulping coffee from the mug Vash handed her -- she swallows before she carefully answers Douglas, "Uh... lessee... Aykuh can seal up my room so it gets and stays warmer, so I get artificially warmed up for the breakfast rush during wintertime... but the warmth fades off relatively quick, so I have to heat up again by the fire." She smiles ruefully at the cougar, "Plus... I think I'm still getting used to here. Don't have one of the army suits we used to get issued, so I don't have heated clothing to keep me warm." She adds a little sheepishly, "Sorry about repeatedly licking you while trying to ID you, Vashti..."

Douglas glances to Vash, and a twinge of worry catches him. Cold... she's cold-blooded. And it's about to get colder. Dammit, dammit, dammit! Doug, you should have seen this! No wonder people around here haven't seen many lamias, they're all South... where it's warm all year 'round! He glances to Vash, his ears twitching.

Vash grins and waves Doug back to his conversation, "Relax, Doug. It's just cool this morning. It's fine, don't worry about it." He shakes his head to Zildjian, "No problem. Thought you could use it more than I could."

Douglas looks at Vash for a moment, then nods slowly and smiles a bit. "Yeah, that's true." But it's going to get colder, Captain.

Strander looks a bit concernedly at the uplifts by the fire, then says to the bat, "Is... everything all right with your friend?"

Kerry skrees, "She's cold-blooded. Not used to the weather, is all."

Strander nods slowly, his gaze both worried and thoughtful. By the fire, the big lamia is still lying full length around the fire, leaning tiredly on her elbows. She finishes the coffee, sets the mug aside, and grins slowly at the cougar, "Don't worry too much, Doug. I'll get used to it... or I'll find someone mammalian that doesn't mind sharing heat, or I'll figure out some clothing that'll help." Her voice gets wryly self-deprecating, "I'm not down and out yet, old son."

Douglas blinks and smiles softly, nodding to Zildjian. "Okay. Just worrying, that's all." I wonder if she'd be welcome at the trollhome to spend some time there? Lord knows, it's warm and comfortable there -- if it gets really cold out she might do well to go there. Or maybe... I don't know if uplift lamia hibernate... He makes his way back to Strander and settles into his seat again. "Sorry," he says, smiling a bit. "You guys sound like you've had a lot of experience travelling the Gates!"

Strander smiles up at the big cougar, "Different folks do, yes. Me personally... well, I've only had experience with this Gate." He adds a little wistfully, "I must say... we were so excited when we realized you all were Gate wayfarers -- we always find that new Gate cultures have so much to teach and share with us!" His tone gets a little embarrassed as he adds, "We... were already planning what we might have been able to offer your team, to show good will..." He adds softly, "I... guess we were a bit too eager. We're sorry."

Kerry glances at Vash, who's still busy with the lamia. "We're... explorers, I suppose, is the best word. We weren't really supposed to be a contact team, but things... happened." Strander nods, then glances curiously at the armadillo.

Vash says, "No need to apologize, Strander. We're just explorers. Forward observers. We didn't expect to meet you, either."

Douglas glances over to Vash. Aren't we authorized to establish trade agreements? he doesn't ask. He looks back to Strander. I don't like being treated like we were throwaways. You don't build spacecraft to carry throwaways. "Lots of things happened, really. But..." he sighs quietly. "-not much to be done for that now, really." Now, open wide and say 'ahh'... and... "Say, what inn are you guys staying at in town?"

Strander gives the cougar another curious glance, but politely answers, "We usually stay at the Bounding Hart... but due to the injured farmer we met on the way, we've left our horse and cart here, at the Silver Egg." He smiles, "It's a new one... there was no Silver Egg last time a member of our team passed by here." He tilts his head thoughtfully at the cougar, then says gently to the group, "You know... strictly speaking, the laws of Crossroads are sovereign here -- not those of your homeworld. You do not have to remain the property of this corporation you spoke of, if you do not wish to... you have clans and affiliations here now... and worst comes to worst, you could always claim political asylum on one of the worlds of the Federation...?"

Vash says, "I'm an employee, Strander. I am no one's property." His voice isn't harsh, but it leaves no room for debate -- just stating a fact. Zildjian looks up at that... she laughs, low and hissing, a bitter tone in her voice, then rolls slightly to face the fire again. Kerry doesn't turn at Zil's laugh, and doesn't say anything. I know, Zildjian. We're not -- not really, at least -- but you're in a different position. I don't know if I trust these folks yet, though. Stay here.

Vash continues, "I get a paycheck, just like you. I'm doing my job, as is my crew, as I'm sure you are. If you want to talk about trade, I'm willing to talk a deal with you. But let's get on the same page here: I am a man, the same as you are. I expect you'll keep that in mind when you deal with us." He pauses, then adds, "So. Enough apologizing."

Strander brightens, "Really? Oh, excellent! This is better than we hoped!" He gives a faintly puzzled glance at the lamia, then continues to Vash as he rises, "I'll tell Hulen -- she's our geneticist!" As he heads for the door he adds cheerfully, "We thought the first thing you might be interested in is deciding if you and your hand-fasted would like children -- we might be able to help with that!" He beams and waves, "I'll see you all later today, I'm sure -- be well and happy, and we'll speak again of trade when you're ready!"

Last modified: 2002-Jan-12 15:02:27

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