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"With an Unquiet Soul You Shall Have Gold"

    The third day of the Gather is well and truly into full swing, even though it's only late morning. There's music, drink, food, and people talking all around the edge of the big clearing, with the group of trolls mostly together. More foxes than usual cycle through the crowd; it seems as if there are always new vulpine faces visible. Sakura often has foxes she doesn't know introduced, or introducing themselves. Larrikan, Bandé, or Aedaith manage to stay near by her, and try and help her keep the many names and clans straight. Feina is off with the musicians, learning words and teaching words about the great Heroes.

    Kyerno gets to play with Douglas some more, much to all the trolls' delight, and Annifred takes the chance to get to know some of her more distant relatives. The trolls manage to vanish off for some privacy too, although not as notably as the foxes. Sekk talks to the other elders and keeps an eye on the "little" gargoyle. The humans, outnumbering the others by three or four to one, laugh and talk. Vash is surrounded by them, with a beaming Blue at his side. The other hunters also seem proud to have him among their number, although less obviously than Blue. Because of those couple of things, it seems Vash is quite welcome. The twins turn up occasionally to pepper the armadillo with curious questions, and then scamper busily away again.

Aedaith finds Sakura on the third day of the Gather, and gives her the usual greeting hug. Leaving one arm around the alien vixen, Aedaith says, "Sakura! The fostering ceremony will be later this afternoon. Has anyone told you what it will be like?"

Sakura hugs Aedaith back, "A little bit, but not too much..."

Aedaith says, "Okay. Let me tell you what will happen." She looks at the native dress that Sakura is wearing, "And perhaps we can get you something a little more traditional to wear for the ceremony." She leads Sakura off, asking, "Would you mind? I'm sure the Elders would react better."

Sakura nods, "Oh! I really wasn't sure what to wear, so I put on something that I hadn't worn before." She doesn't mention that this was the dress she got for the ceremony, as she would be mortified if she hurt Aedaith's feelings and she does want to fit in with the Shy Folk. "What's the traditional costume look like?"

Aedaith leads Sakura back to where she and Bandé are staying at Larrikan's again, explaining, "This is a lovely dress and nice to dance in, but it's made by humans and from human cloth." She adds with a wry grin, "Generally it is very nice, too. But it doesn't have quite the right feel for this kind of ceremony." Feina is there and says, "Hi!" bouncing excitedly when Aedaith tells her what she's doing. Aedaith continues, "A blouse and long skirts is most traditional, especially for winter dress. In the summer, short skirts might be enough."

Sakura nods and smiles as she hugs Feina. "I bow to your wisdom, Aedaith... I want to make a good impression. You know your culture far better than I do."

Aedaith and Feina rummage around in their packs and come up with only a little more clothing in the 'traditional' materials. Like the dress Larrikan gave her, they seem all natural, as if matching leaves together made them, and they simply stuck. They're muted russets and browns, and generally blend well with fox fur. A long skirt and loose, low cut blouse with long sleeves seem to satisfy Aedaith. Feina mutters something about preferring leather.

Sakura is quite happy to let the two vixens help her with the clothing for the ceremony. She enjoys being around them and this is a great excuse to do just that... Feina more than cheerfully helps Sakura undress, and the two sisters dress Sakura. Feina holds things in place while Aedaith makes a couple of simple modifications. Rather than using a needle and thread, she uses something that reminds Sakura of a crochet hook, making a couple of tucks in places so the skirts and blouse will stay properly. Sakura watches interestedly. "What is this made of? The material seems a little... odd."

Feina says, "Oh, these are made of kalebush leaves and song."

While she makes little adjustments, Aedaith says, "The ceremony is pretty simple. We'll take you to where most of the foxes are camped, and introduce you to everyone. Then you'll be presented to the Elders, who will take your measure and make a decision. Considering you're a Hero that's almost a formality, but you never know. Then those who wish to join your clan will approach you and petition you to join, and you will ask the Elder from their old clan if they are free to leave the old clan. You'll then ask if they want to join clan Murasaki. Once they answer, you welcome to the clan, usually with a hug and kiss."

Sakura smiles. "Thank you, Aedaith... I was wondering what it would be like. It puts me at ease having some idea what to expect." She grins at Feina. "Song? Are they magical?"

Feina says, "They've got strength and stealth and cleanliness stitched into them, and the song helps hold them. Other than that, they're just leaves."

Sakura brushes her paws over the fabric, "Oh, neat!"

Feina shrugs, "The dress Larrikan gave you is very similar. I think it's got grace and luck stitched in, too." Aedaith finishes, now sitting on the floor where she'd been making sure the hem was right, and looks up, "Larrikan will have to fight to keep the other fellows from swarming you. You're a very pretty vixen."

Sakura blushes, "Thank you... I'd rather he not fight, though. There's no question in my mind who I belong with." She beams a smile at Aedaith.

Aedaith smiles and puts things away, saying, "Good." Feina says, "Normally your family would come too, and the vixen-in-charge would do the speaking. You don't have any other family here, do you? Would you want to bring the other Heroes?"

Sakura says, "I'd love for Douglas and Vash to be there. They're practically my family and the closest thing to family I've got here, right now."

Feina hmms. "We don't usually let anyone but foxes come." She thinks, then adds, "I'll go talk to the Elders, and round up Douglas and Vash. I'll meet you there, okay?"

Sakura nods, "Thanks, Feina! I appreciate it."

Feina hugs Aedaith, and then gives Sakura a closer hug, saying, "You'll do great. I'll see you there." So saying, she scampers off.

Aedaith says, "Oh, I didn't think of that. I'm glad they're not humans. I don't think the Elders would allow that. But they're not, and they're Heroes, so I don't think it'll be a problem."

Sakura nods, "I know it's probably a break with tradition, but it would mean a lot for me to have my closest friends there."

A little while later Feina comes bouncing up to Douglas and Annifred, finding them in the trolls' end of the Gathering field, seated at a long bench with Hallifred. Annifred has cheerfully climbed into his lap, and is laughing at something when Feina comes up. Kyerno is sitting next to Douglas, with its long tail wrapped around the cougar's leg. When Feina comes up the gargoyle flutters its wings a bit, saying, "Skeep!" a bit startledly.

Douglas is relaxing; it's not often that he does that, and of late there hasn't been much call to actually relax. In fact, it's been pretty glum lately. So he tried his best to forget the ills of late, and (mostly) ignore the 'librarians' as they wander around the Gather -- he doesn't feel too inclined to introduce them to the trolls, really, and wouldn't lie to the trolls for them anyway. So he relaxes, though he's a bit surprised at the attachment the gargoyle has taken to him. He blinks at the gargoyle's reaction to Feina, but then smiles to the young vixen. "Hello, Feina!" he says cheerfully. "Enjoying the Gather?"

Feina nods, "Yes, it's a nice Gather. Very big! Lots of foxes who I haven't seen in a long time." She says, "Hi, gargoyle! Nice little guy! I'm not going to hurt you," and smiles at it. Oddly, it seems to relax about that, and settles down against Douglas, quieting again. Feina says, "That's a nice gargoyle," and continues in the reassuring voice, "Don't you eat me, either." She looks back at Douglas, adding, "The ceremony to make Sakura's clan part of the groups happens today. She'd like you to come. Can you?"

Douglas blinks in surprise at Feina's ability to calm the gargoyle; Kyerno always seemed a little skittish to him. He blinks again at Feina's mention of Sakura's ceremony. "Really? I mean, they'll allow it? Yes, certainly, I'll be glad to be there for Sakura-chan!"

Feina says, "I don't know how they'll feel about it. If you'll come now, we can find out." She grins mischievously at that.

Douglas blinks. That hardly sounds promising, he thinks, then lightly (and carefully) scritches the gargoyle behind its ears, hoping it'll like that. He looks up to Annifred a bit apologetically. "I don't know how long the ceremony will be, and I get the impression the Shy Folk are... er, well, shy about people seeing it."

Annifred snorts, "Ja, could say that. Usually not even tell others they have ceremony, much less show. Go with Feina. I be around or at trollhome." She shoos him away, grinning. Hallifred grins, "Likely we all be here when you get back."

Douglas blinks. "Really? That's surprising, actually." He hugs Annifred (and any other trolls so inclined), "Thank you. Be back soon!" He then moves off with Feina to wherever she leads him to the ceremony, fully expecting something on the order of being blindfolded before led there.

Feina doesn't head for the ceremony. She first finds Vash, who is looking kind of worn out. She tells him what's going on, then asks if he can come. Blue has pretty much the same thing to say as Annifred did, adding, "Can I come and make drawings?"

Feina looks very uncomfortable, "I think that would be most unwelcome. Some of the Elders would be very uncomfortable with that." She looks terribly embarrassed to say it. Vash tells Blue he should go for his crew and it won't be too long, and she nods a bit disappointedly. Feina says that she's sure Saki would model the dress later if Blue wanted, which perks the artist back up.

Once Feina has the two crewmates in tow, she begins to lead away from the Gather. Douglas finds Feina's comment interesting -- about the Elders not being comfortable with Blue being there. Is it because she's a human? Just how much bad blood is there between the humans and the Shy Folk? Now isn't the time to ask, though...

Feina leads the two spacefarers through a confusing set of trails. She explains, "Many of the Elders are very wary of all outsiders, especially humans. You're not humans, and you're Heroes, and you're as close to being Sakura's family as she's got, so I don't think there will be a problem." As she walks she adds, "Mostly don't act threatening, and act like you belong there."

Douglas blinks and nods quietly, swallowing a bit. "We'll try, Feina... though I hope we don't have to get into one of those fox-fights like a couple of days ago..."

Feina says matter-of-factly, "Oh, you won't. You're not foxes. They'd kill you instead."

Douglas actually does miss a step with that, and glances to Vash. Someone remind me again why Sakura wanted us there? he thinks to himself, as he picks up the pace again. She can't still be sore about those 'gold and loincloth' jokes we made before we landed...

Eventually Feina leads Doug and Vash into a clearing. It's smaller than the Gather clearing, and has trees hanging over most of it, giving it a dark and secluded feeling. There are a small number of wagons and a large number of foxes.

People over at the Gather were surprised to see fifteen foxes at a time. What most of them don't realize is that that's a little less than a quarter of the adult foxes present, and there's half again as many cubs. Much like the little one Douglas met earlier, they're cute, fluffy balls of energy, darting about endlessly under the casual but careful eyes of adults of many and varied relations, ranging from "Mom" to near-complete strangers.

When Douglas and Vash arrive, several adult foxes come over, bristling. One of them says, "Feina! What are you doing?!"

Douglas blinks a bit at the sheer number of foxen there. He'd never imagined there could be so many in one place! The sight of the cubs is even more startling, since with the last fox-kit he saw the foxes were very, very edgy about someone -- anyone -- seeing that cub. He glances to Feina, swallowing, wondering if he should say anything... and deciding that he should keep his mouth shut and let Feina, the fox, do the talking for now.

Feina says, "I'm bringing in Sakura's family, for the fostering ceremony, of course. Is there a problem with that?" Her voice takes on a bit of an edge there. The Elder looks a bit discomfited at that, saying lamely, "Ah... family. Well... they're not foxes." Feina counters with, "No, they're Heroes, just like she is." Douglas tries not to shuffle his feet, glancing a bit uncertainly between Feina, Vash, and the Elder.

One of the three adults, a vixen going slightly gray around the muzzle, is staring at Douglas, considering something. After a moment she says, "Wait here." She turns and walks away, looking for someone. Feina and the other two adults seem perfectly happy to stay and wait. The third of the foxes to approach asks Feina almost conversationally, "Will Sakura be here soon?"

Feina says, "I think so. Aedaith was making sure she was ready. Are Larrikan and Bandé here?" The other nods, "Yes. The band is ready, too."

Douglas shifts a little uneasily. "Er... Feina... what's going to happen if the Elders, well, don't want us here?"

It only takes a few minutes for the elder vixen to return. She comes up and addresses Douglas, asking, "Does the name Ferol mean anything to you?"

Douglas blinks to the elder. "Ferol?" he asks. "Why... yes, actually. A young kit who got lo- er, whom we ran into in the forest the other day and... asked for directions back to the Gather."

The older vixen smiles, "And you're the cat who returned him to us." She looks at the others, "They're okay. This cat and a troll returned a lost cub." The other adults relax and the spokes-fox says, "Well, who can argue with that? Welcome. The ceremony will start pretty much whenever everyone's here now."

Douglas almost visibly relaxes, bowing slightly. His mental voice is a mental wreck. "Thank you. We're both very honored to be here as Sakura's family."

Aedaith and Sakura turn up just a few minutes later, Aedaith having taken time to find a traditional looking dress of her own. It's a much more revealing cut than Sakura's, probably a little summery for the season, but it's close enough. Aedaith waves at Feina, who leads Douglas and Vash over to her sister and Sakura. Sakura hugs Douglas and Vash excitedly. "I'm so glad that you could make it. It means a lot to me that you're here!"

Aedaith quickly outlines the ceremony for Douglas and Vash, telling them, "Stay near but behind Sakura, and don't do anything threatening." A group of older foxes is forming, and Aedaith leads Sakura over to them.

Douglas blinks at the sudden exuberant hug, but recovers quickly and returns it in kind. "We're very, very glad to be here for you, Sakura-chan." He nods to Aedaith, though wonders, So how are you supposed to stand 'non-threateningly,' Doug?

The group of older foxes walks casually over to Sakura and her family, Aedaith dropping back out of the way. They don't form a queue or anything, but merely come up to the outsiders and have a look at them, Sakura receiving the most attention. There are nine of them, four dog foxes and five vixens. They are each dressed neatly, wearing the same natural-looking, leafy sort of garments Sakura has. There is hardly a sound when they move, out of long habit and practice.

Sakura presses her paws together and bows deeply to the older foxes. "It is a great honor to meet you." She straightens and smiles at the older foxes, a little shy but confident. The elder foxes sort of fan out through the three outsiders. Sakura's smile is returned by one of the vixens, who walks slowly around her, reaching out to trail fingers lightly over Sakura's shoulders and across her back. Sakura stands quietly while the foxes inspect her. She assumes that's what they're doing, at any rate... Douglas remains standing there, hands folded neatly in front of him, not letting his tail twitch but neither letting it droop downward.

One of the old tod foxes looks up at the huge cougar and smiles at him gently, somehow reassuringly, patting him on the back. The vixen who'd touched Sakura steps up closer to her and gives her a gentle hug, sniffing carefully while she's close. Vash notices two of the others circling close to him and sniffing politely, one trailing a gentle finger across armor. Douglas blinks a bit at the tod's reassuring smile, and smiles sheepishly, immediately relaxing. It seems like it's a tradition. A ritualized taking-in of the scent of the new family. Who knows; with the magic of Crossroads, maybe it's even more than just the physical scent they're sensing.

Sakura returns the hug that the vixen gave her, not sure if she should or not, but she doesn't want to seem cold and rude. Better to err on the side of friendly. The vixen doesn't feel at all feeble to Sakura, but tough and wiry. The gentle hug gets a little firmer when Sakura responds, and the vixen finally steps away smiling. Leaving one hand on Sakura's arm, she introduces herself, "I am Maer of the Fishers by the Pathfinders. Welcome, Sakura."

Sakura smiles and bows again to the vixen. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Maer of the Fishers by the Pathfinders." The old vixen nods at Sakura, then moves away a little, walking around her towards Douglas. One of the tod foxes is now smiling at Sakura, and steps in to give her another hug and a gentle kiss on one cheek, then on the other. He takes her scent, and she has ample time to return the favor. Sakura smiles at the tod fox and returns his hug, kissing his cheeks as he kisses hers. She does take the opportunity to take his scent, since it is obviously part of this ritual.

Maer walks slowly around Sakura to Douglas, approaching him carefully, and walking towards him until he seems to flinch a little. There she pauses, reaching out to stroke his arm, and only then moving in to give him a hug and take his scent. She lingers there, although why isn't clear. The tod leans back and smiles, "Well met, Sakura. I am Dálach of the Trackers by the Snake Charmers."

Sakura smiles back at the ivy-smelling tod. "A pleasure to meet you, Dálach of the Trackers by the Snake Charmers."

Douglas blinks at little at Maer's trepidation. He doesn't want to startle her, though he does try to follow Sakura's lead (which didn't get a bad reaction), and gently returns the embrace. He tries to make the hug as non-threatening -- almost by definition, as non-trøllish -- as possible, mindful of Aedaith's warning. Still, there's only so many ways you can make a hug 'non-threatening' without it being 'wishy-washy.' So he errs on the side of warmth.

Dálach moves slowly away, circling and smiling. He doesn't leave the three new people -- none of the elders seem to, yet -- although he moves off in another direction, towards Vash. Sakura feels a hand on her shoulder, and another vixen steps around from behind her, tall and graceful, admiring Sakura with a smile. She comes in close for a hug and a light kiss on each cheek, with scenting, too. Sakura mirrors the vixen's motions carefully again, smiling at her.

Dálach has come up to Vash and pauses to admire the sturdy form of the armadillo, before giving him an embrace, and also a light kiss on each cheek. None of the elders are moving quickly, and it's clear that it's because they're simply being careful and cautions, not because they can't.

The vixen holds on to Sakura's arms gently, not quite letting her go completely, and says, "Sakura, I am Locha of the Wind Dancers by the Plains Hunters. Our clan welcomes you." Maer lets Douglas go and continues walking around him. Douglas smiles quietly, much reassured and MUCH more relaxed, to Maer, tilting his head to the side a bit as she walks around him. Vash responds with a gentle hug and returns the fox's smile. Nobody seems to talk, but rather just to introduce themselves to Sakura.

Sakura smiles, "I am glad to meet you, Locha of the Wind Dancers by the Plains Hunters."

Locha moves off to silently take Douglas' measure with a hug and scent. She lets her fingers drag through his fur as she steps away. Maer moves on toward Vash, and Dálach comes over behind Sakura towards Douglas. Sakura is approached by another tod fox with very dark red fur, except where it fades to blackness at the tips of his ears and feet, and has gone gray about the end of his muzzle. Sakura smiles at the new tod fox. She will wait for him to make a move, but if he reacts like the others have, she will hug him, kiss his cheeks and wait for him to introduce herself. This isn't nearly as scary as she thought it was going to be.

The introductions continue. The tod in front of Sakura leans a little in, takes her scent, then stands straight and bows, saying, "I am Wyllow of the Mountain Climbers by the Dark Red Fur. Welcome, Sakura." Those who have already greeted Sakura continue to walk slowly about the three visitors, watching them and occasionally reaching out to touch them gently with a hand as they walk by, or perhaps letting their tail brush against them.

Sakura mirrors the tod's bow, rather than hugging him. She smiles, "A pleasure, Wyllow of the Mountain Climbers by the Dark Red Fur." The name certainly fits. He's got much darker fur than the others She stands, outwardly confident as the foxes circle her.

Wyllow grins toothily at Sakura and moves silently off to examine her friends. The overall effect is quite odd, a gentle but inquisitive examination which slowly becomes more accepting as more have introduced themselves. Some of the touches linger a little longer as time goes by, too. The foxes relax around the strangers, and seem to be becoming used to them. Sakura relaxes a little when the other foxes do. She's quite nervous, but that fact that they're becoming more relaxed allows her to do so as well...

A traditionally colored vixen who has been walking slowly about the others comes up to Sakura from behind and puts an arm around her, looking at her and gauging reactions. She seems not quite as old as the others, but still an obviously experienced Elder fox, with a slightly familiar glint to her eye. She says nothing and doesn't move away for a moment, watching Sakura closely.

Sakura manages not to jump, as she's becoming used to the light touches at random intervals. She is a little surprised about the arm around her waist. She turns her head towards the other vixen and smiles, bowing her head in respect. Douglas is visited by Dálach and Wyllow, who both seem to regard the big cougar well, while Vash has Locha's attention. The foxes move in generally a little closer to the guests.

The vixen steps the rest of the way around Sakura, letting her hand trail along the young vixen until she faces her. She says, "I am Iorwen of the Swift Folk by the Black Fur. Welcome, Sakura." Stepping very close to Sakura, the older vixen hugs her tightly and kisses her cheek, murmuring into her ear, "And I'm Larrikan's grandmother. If that rascal isn't good to you I'm going to pull his tail off."

Douglas is by now used to the close quarters' contact; a few months ago, fresh from home-Earth, he would have been starting to have thoughts about 'personal space.' The trolls disabused himself of any concept of that, but he doesn't let that govern his reactions to the embraces. Instead he returns them as they are given, warmly and as gently as he can without it seeming insincere, because he is sincere. He's part of Sakura-chan's family, after all. That's why he's there.

Sakura smiles and hugs the vixen, returning the kiss on the cheek. She barely manages to keep herself from laughing out loud, giving a little giggle instead. "It is an honor to meet you, Iorwen of the Swift Folk by the Black Fur... your Larrikan is very good to me. His grandmother and mother did a very good job of teaching him." She beams a smile.

This earns Sakura another hug and kiss from Iorwen before she moves off, smiling and satisfied. She approaches Vash with a hug and scenting. Sakura is greeted by another tod, this one seeming very elderly and a little unstable on his feet, with a careful hug and, "I hight Agh of the Snow Tamers by the Trackers. Be welcome." His voice is strong and sure and his gaze sharp, though.

Sakura bows deeply to the tod. "Thank you, Agh of the Snow Tamers by the Trackers." Sakura relaxes further, smiling at the foxes, though she's still quite nervous. Meeting Larrikan's grandmother helped a lot.

Douglas and Vash continue to be met, hugged, and casually touched by passing elders, some of whom have introduced themselves to Sakura, and others who have not yet. The elders are getting closer and spending more time in contact with the new people. The small group is warm and the scent of foxes pervasive now.

The old fox smiles and moves off, obviously approving of the lady's response. Next to approach Sakura is another vixen, this one a little more heavyset than most, with thick fur. Her hug is strong and friendly, "I am Scáthdercc of the Falcon Watchers by the Crow Singers. Welcome, Sakura."

Sakura returns the hug, "Thank you, Scáthdercc of the Falcon Watchers by the Crow Singers. It is wonderful to meet you." She smiles.

Another tod steps up close upon Scáthcercc's heels, "My name is Artri of the Rabbit Hunters by the Fishers. I am pleased to welcome you on behalf of my clan." He then gives her the now familiar hug and scenting.

Sakura smiles, returning the hug and scenting, "Thank you for your welcome, Artri of the Rabbit Hunters by the Fishers. I am pleased to meet you."

At this point most of the clans have been introduced and most of the elders present have had a pretty good look at and scenting of the strangers. There's almost always one, if not two, gentle hands resting on or soothingly stroking the three new people, and the foxes are getting closer and more at ease. The last unknown face steps up and smiles, "Welcome, Sakura. I am Faimdid of the Foresters by the Moon Children." Amidst the hello-hug, she adds, "I hope you'll be able to help my clan, and that we will be able to help yours."

Sakura bows to the final vixen. "A pleasure to meet you, Faimdid of the Foresters by the Moon Children... I hope I can do something to help you!"

The elders mingle for a few moments more before moving off together. They talk together a moment, and Iorwyn laughs. They turn and face Sakura, saying, "Welcome, Sakura. Your clan is acknowledged, and you and your family have founded it."

Sakura smiles hugely and bows to the group, deeply in the traditional Japanese style. "I thank you all for your recognition. I am honored."

The other foxes all murmur an, "Ooh," at that, and the Elders look pleased. That seems pretty much to end the ceremony, as several people clap and someone brings up a wineskin to the elders, who cheerfully pass it around. Aedaith comes back, "That wasn't so hard, was it?"

Sakura hugs Aedaith, then Douglas and Vash again. "Thank you, too. It wasn't as tough as I thought it was going to be. Thank you for being here and for your help!"

Douglas blinks a little at what for him was the surprise ending of the ceremony, then smiles, hugging Sakura back warmly. "You're welcome, Sakura-chan. We were both very, very glad to do this for you."

Sakura smiles, "Thank you, Douglas-kun!"

Larrikan and Bandé turn up, Bandé also having a wineskin. Larrikan says, "Let's sit down and see what happens." Bandé says, "This is the family circle. The foxes will take turns going to the Gather, to keep the children safe here."

Sakura takes a seat next to Larrikan, after giving him and Bandé a hug. "That's why there's never many foxes at the gather at a time?"

Bandé nods, and Larrikan says, "There are many, but most people don't realize how many." Douglas nods at Bandé's explanation; that would explain why there were no fox kits at the Gather, and why there are comparatively few foxes at the Gather compared to here. As Sakura, Larrikan, Aedaith, Bandé, Feina, Douglas, and Vash are settling down on the ground and just starting to pass around the wine, Nessa approaches them a little timidly and asks, "Sakura? May I speak to you?"

Sakura stands up and smiles at Nessa, moving away from the others a bit. "Of course, Nessa!"

Nessa says, "I would like to become a part of your clan, ma'am. Would you be willing to foster me?"

Sakura smiles. "Yes, of course, Nessa... I wouldn't renege on my promise to you now. I'd be happy to foster you, as long as it is all right with your Clan leader."

Nessa seems relieved, "Oh, good. Can we go ask her?" Faimdid is easily visible, talking to someone.

Sakura nods, "Certainly. Would you just give me a quick moment here? I'll be right back!"

Nessa nods, "Yes." She tries to catch Faimdid's eye without being too obtrusive.

Sakura slips back to the group. "I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do here. Nessa would like me to foster her and I know I have to talk to Faimdid, but I don't know what to say." She looks between Aedaith and Bandé curiously.

Larrikan says, "Oh. You go get Faimdid, and Nessa will ask if you will foster her. You ask Faimdid if she will let Nessa join your clan. If Faimdid says yes, you tell Faimdid that you will be responsible for Nessa and would not let anything unpleasant come back to their clan. You then tell Nessa yes, and that's that."

Sakura smiles, "Thanks, Larrikan." She gets up and goes back over to Nessa. "Sorry, Nessa. Are you ready?" Nessa nods and leads the way over to Faimdid. She's obviously excited.

Sakura bows when they get to Faimdid, who says, "Hello, Nessa, Sakura." She smiles, "I bet I can guess why you're here."

Sakura grins a little. "I would bet that you're right."

Nessa smiles a little embarrassedly, but says, "Sakura, would you foster me into clan Murasaki?"

Sakura smiles at Nessa then turns to Faimdid. "Faimdid, will you allow Nessa to join Clan Murasaki?"

Faimdid asks Nessa, "Is this what you want, child?" Nessa's nod shows this is purely a formal question, and Faimdid tells Sakura, "Yes, we will allow Nessa to join the Murasaki clan."

Sakura smiles, "I will be responsible for Nessa and will not let anything unpleasant come back to your clan." She turns to Nessa and smiles at her. "Yes, Nessa. I will foster you."

Nessa says, "Oh, thank you!" and gives Sakura an exuberant hug. Faimdid chuckles and says, "If you'd like to save yourself some trips, Sakura, and you do want to foster them, I expect we could round up the others who were interested. I've had people asking me for two days if they thought you'd foster them."

Sakura returns Nessa's hug. She grins at Faimdid. "I'd be pleased to foster any of the foxes that you'd let me."

Faimdid smiles, "That will make them happy. I doubt they'll need anything they can't get from us, but they're excited to be close to the Hero and in at the beginning of a clan." She adds, "Nessa, dear, go find Lakutu, Lára, Comux, and Err, please? I'm sure once you tell them your news, they'll come."

Sakura nods, "I don't wish to put you in an uncomfortable position, Faimdid..."

Faimdid smiles reassuringly at Sakura, then also waves down a couple of the other Elders, saying, "I thought we'd get this formality out of the way and then we can settle down for a nice dance." Nessa comes back with a pair of vixens and a pair of dog foxes.

The four foxes are following Nessa very interestedly. Each of them introduces themselves. Lakutu of the Snake Charmers by Follows Rivers is a vixen who has a kit curled up asleep in her arms. Lára of the Foresters by the Song Weavers is a slightly heavyset looking vixen with a wide grin and bright green eyes. Comux of the Plains Hunters by the Foresters is a strong looking tod, who seems to say little. Err of the Black Fur by the Song Weavers is another tod, who seems very slight and extremely shy.

Sakura smiles and hugs each of the vixens and dog foxes Nessa has brought over, in turn. "A pleasure to meet you all."

Nessa nudges Lára, "C'mon. She's nice!" Lára says, "Sakura, would you foster me into your clan?"

Sakura turns to Faimdid and smiles. "Would you like to begin?"

Faimdid says, "I can only speak for Lára, as the others aren't of my clan." She asks Lára, "Is this what you want, Lára?" The vixen nods. The ceremony is brief and without hiccup. Lára hugs her new sister, and seems very happy. Faimdid says, "Now, let's find the right Elders for the rest of you, mm?" which makes the others look very happy. It doesn't take long to get the other three -- and the little one, too -- sworn over to clan Murasaki.

Sakura seems very pleased. It's so nice to have other foxes around and the ones who have joined her clan seem like genuinely wonderful foxes. Faimdid says, "A busy night, Sakura! Your clan went from three to eight in just a few minutes. The rest will take more time, although it wouldn't surprise me if Lára were pregnant, or is soon."

Sakura smiles at Faimdid. "Thank you for all of your help, Faimdid... you're very kind."

Faimdid chuckles, "Always best to help your own kind, Sakura. There's enough problems with the humans and the wolves that we don't need to be fighting among ourselves." Seeing the energy of the newly minted Murasaki is so excited, she adds, "Now, I think you should go off and meet your new daughters." She gives Sakura a hug, "Let me know if there is anything I can do."

Sakura smiles, "Thanks again!" She waves to the vixen and goes over to her new Clan members, hugging each of them. "Welcome to Clan Murasaki, all of you... and thank you..." The ceremonial parts are done, and musicians, including Larrikan, get out instruments. All the foxes begin to dance. They're very energetic dancers, and Douglas and Vash are happily pulled into the whirl. Sakura also seems quite happy to dance, taking time to partner with her new clan and with Douglas and Vash.

The music is infectious and makes everyone feel good -- positive and upbeat. The foxes are carefree and happy, and take turns dancing so the little ones are watched. The fluffy little children are exceptionally cute, once over their fear of the big cat and armadillo, and soon want to climb on them to see what they're like. Dancing is probably safer.

Douglas enjoys the dancing -- it's a wonderful way to wrap up the ceremony, and while he hopes that Hallifred and the Bald Mountain trolls will still be there when he gets back, at the same time he enjoys the celebratory dancing. He also can't recall when he'd ever danced with Sakura-chan either, actually. "Congratulations again," he says to her, during one dance. "Does that mean that they'll call you 'mom' now?"

Sakura laughs, "Thank you, Douglas! I don't know if they'll call me mom... I don't really know how it works." She grins.

Larrikan dances with Sakura when he's not playing with the band, which is about half the time. Other foxes are all too happy to make sure she's never without a partner. Any worries Sakura might have had about other vixens being unhappy about this are resolved when she overhears one urging her companion not to be shy and to go dance.

Feina finds Vash and Douglas after a while, and says, "If you'd like, I can take you back to the Gather. Otherwise, they'll probably dance all night. Or you can stay here and see how many vixens try and get you into bed with them tonight."

Douglas blinks to Feina. Several times. Yes, she did just say what you just thought she said. Take it like a cougar! But, argh, wait. "Ahh... I'd... not want to be discourteous but, speaking only for myself, I would like to go back before Hallifred and the Bald Mountain trolls leave the Gather."

Feina nods, "Nobody'll think it unusual that you want to get back to your sweeties." She makes sure the three of them say goodbye to the new clan leader. Sakura waves goodbye to Vash and Douglas, shouting out a quick thanks to them for coming before she goes back to dancing... then Feina leads the cougar and the armadillo off through a confusing array of trails to the Gather clearing, a little before dusk.


As the evening progresses, more and more folk turn up at the Gather to dance. Trolls dance generally by themselves, but Douglas gets pulled off into the main crowd for a little while, as there's only so many Heroes to go around. Vash has many members of Blue's family dance with him. Several aunts, a venerable but feisty Grandmother, and the strangely lithe and aggressive Wolflady all take their turn, smiling and trying to get to know this stranger who has stolen the heart of their artist. The twins demand a dance from him as well, and are not to be denied. Blue, of course, keeps him the rest of the night.

The Sphynx is also there, usually playing with the delighted human children. When she finds Vash she is all too happy to see him. She tries once again to nuzzle him a greeting to the point where he falls over, but he manages to dodge. She shows a moment of concern for Zildjian, who doesn't seem to be around this evening, but is reassured when Vash tells her he saw the lamia earlier in the day. The clear winter night is very cold, and people drink hot drinks and dance a little closer to offset this. Even so, it is a little earlier than the Spring Gather's usual retiring time that most here decide to forgo the cold night and go off to warm beds.

Hangover day dawns as another bitterly cold morning, and most people linger where it's warm and quiet for a very long while. Late morning, a few people are moving, poking around and just generally taking it easy, when Vash, Sakura, and Douglas meet each other at the Silver Egg. Most aren't eating much, but there's a land office business on juice.

When the travelers gather Aykuh serves them hot coffee and says, "I'm very glad to see you. I'm worried about Zildjian, and thought maybe you'd know if this were normal. She's from your home too, right?" She adds, "I also sent a note to Cat, as she might know Lamia from where she's from."

Vash cracks an eye. "You mean the torpor? Well, it's sorta normal... she's cold-blooded. The winter isn't doing her any good. But I think Doug and I have the solution." He is sitting very, very still.

Sakura raises an eyebrow, "Captain? Are you all right?"

Vash closes his eye again. "I am. I am also very, very hung over." He would appear to be meditating were it not for the dark circles under his eyes.

Douglas nods quietly. "Whenever you're ready to do that, Captain." In contrast to... well, almost everyone else, he's handling the drop in temperature rather well, considering he's covered head-to-toe in fur. And his winter coat is coming in nicely, too, lending him a bit of a bulkier appearance. He's still recovering a bit from the drinks from the past three days.

Sakura says, "I could help with that, Sir... if you want me to, that is."

Vash murmurs hoarsely, "Not necessary, Doctora. Aykuh, you got my special order?" The dryad looks pained, but nods. She fades into a wall to retrieve Vash's "special," but returns walking normally... as if she doesn't want whatever is in the mug passing through her. She hands it gingerly to the armadillo.

Sakura nods, "All right, Captain..." She smiles at him.

Douglas blinks a little. "'Special order'?"

Vash smiles wanly. "Thanks, Aykuh." He sets the mug down, and the egg that came with it. There's just an inch of water in the bottom of the mug, and something... else floating around in it. Vash opens his other eye and looks around. "Y'all may not want to watch this."

Sakura says, "Captain... Are you sure that's wise?" Vash cracks the egg into the mug and watches to see that the yolk doesn't break. Taking the mug in one hand and holding his nose with the other, he knocks back the "drink." His adam's apple works for a few moments, then he sets the mug back down. Douglas watches Vash with a mildly queasy look upon his face -- somehow, his complexion looks a bit green. Sakura makes a face. "Ew. And highly unscientific at the same time. You would have been better off with me."

Vash doesn't say anything for a few moments. Finally he raises his head and murmurs, a bit less hoarsely, "It's a little folk magic of my own."

Sakura is still making that face. "Folk magic. At least my medicine wouldn't have tasted bad."

Vash smiles crookedly. "If it tasted good, Doctora, it wouldn't work."

Douglas grimaces again. "This is why I try not to drink too much.

Sakura leans over and nudges Vash playfully. "Sicko."

Vash grins crookedly, his eyes still marvelously bloodshot. "The thing about people that don't drink... when they get up in the morning, that's as good as they're gonna feel all day."

Aykuh comes back timidly and makes sure Vash is finished. Then she asks, "So... you think you know what's wrong with Zildjian? She's not up yet. I'm trying not to worry."

Vash mms, "Yeah, we're pretty sure we know. She's cold-blooded. It's the cold. It's slowing down her body... but I think we got a way around it for this winter. Doug and I are gonna bring down some little heaters for her. Help her warm up in the mornings, get her moving, least until we find a better way or she gets acclimated or something..."

Sakura frowns, "It's a pity there's nothing I can do for her, medically."

Douglas frets a bit. "Do we have any of those foil-like emergency blankets? Would those help?"

Vash says, "Not sure. Doctora?"

Vash says, "If we got 'em, we should bring 'em down with the heaters. Every little bit helps."

Sakura thinks about this for a moment. "I don't think they'd help, Douglas. They preserve the heat that's already there. They'd only be useful when she's already warmed up, not to get her warmed up."

Aykuh says, "I'm sure that would be very nice. She's been worried about it I think." The dryad smiles, "You're very kind to help her." She is then called off by other people needing something.

Douglas urfs and nods quietly. "Good point, Sakura-chan. I'm an engineer, I forgot what 'cold-blooded' means."

Vash says, "Might be good for use with the heaters, though. Help her hang onto the heat without burning down the batteries."

Sakura nods, "They could be useful in combination with the heaters, certainly."

As the group is discussing, the little Aztekan capybara patters hastily by for the kitchen. He almost darts out again, backwards, in sheer fright when the huge minotaur looms into sight, then breathlessly gabbles out an almost incoherent request for lunch -- with one more gourd of soup than usual, please? Hotspur nods gravely and turns back into the kitchen. The capybara fidgets as he waits, glancing nervously around at the other folks in the room.

Douglas perks his ears up a little, glancing over to the capybara as he comes down and asks Hotspur for the lunch. Sakura watches the capybara out of the corner of her eyes. She frowns. The capybara looks more nervous, edging slightly through the kitchen door. Vash hms and reaches into his pocket. He whistles, once, at the capybara. The little rodent starts violently at the whistle, dodging halfway behind the kitchen doorjamb. A moment later he peers out cautiously at the armadillo.

Douglas looks back to his breakfast, murmuring, "Looks like Her Nibs is getting lunch..." He blinks, looking to Vash and wincing a bit at the whistle. Vash reaches up and waves the capybara over.

The edgy capybara looks like he just got a few more gray hairs from that scare... but after a moment he cautiously sidles closer. "Uh... y-y-yes?" He glances towards the stairs, then wrings his small paws together, whispering urgently, "It wasn't us, you know! It wasn't!"

Vash blinks a few times. "Wasn't- oh, that. Look, hermano, just forget about it. We're not pissed at you."

There's a moment of stillness... then a small, gusty sigh of relief, and the capybara's shoulders sag slightly. "Oh... thank goodness." He rubs his whiskers tiredly, then remembers, "Oh, right. Um... can I help you?" He pauses, staring wide-eyed at the stairs for a long moment, as if he's thinking very hard.

Vash takes his hand out of his pocket and holds up the heavy gold token. "You know what this means, yeah?"

Chichi starts slightly again, as if he'd almost been absorbed by his thoughts, then regards the token. He sighs quietly, "Aya. She will see you." His glance at the group is weary.

Vash nods. "I want you to find out when she wants to see us."

The capybara nods, "Oh, easily. Come up when you wishing. Unless busy she will see. Can come now if you want."

Vash says, "All I wanted to know, hermano. Thanks. We'll let y'all finish lunch, I think."

The little capybara glances nervously at the fox and cougar, then sidles a little closer to the armadillo. He whispers almost inaudibly, "Tenotch say you good man. Don't accept patronage. She mean well; good mistress, but..." He shakes his head, holding a finger up to his lips as he faces Vash. A moment later he seems overcome by another fit of nervousness at his audacity -- and he almost flees, dashing back to the kitchen.

Douglas blinks quietly as the fellow runs off. "'But'?" he murmurs. "That was odd. 'But' what?"

Vash makes a face at the capybara's retreating back. "Patronage. Whatever." Aurora owns me already. She's decades too late anyway. Several moments later a heavily laden Chichi heads back for the stairs, carefully not looking at the group, his small ears pinned back in nervousness. Vash shakes his head dismissively. "She means well, but occasionally she fries her servants." Douglas gives a soft snort.

Sakura rolls her eyes, "I'm sure she's an absolute sweetheart... when she's not ripping yours out."

Vash rubs his eyes absently. "So let's finish lunch. I'm gonna get my ship suit... I haven't figured out how to hide my gun in this kilt yet."

Douglas opens his mouth... then wisely closes it, thinking better of any comment. "Certainly, Captain."

An hour or so later, having eaten and changed to whatever clothes they find most appropriate and armed themselves as they see fit, the three Terrans meet at the Egg again. Vash is wearing his ship suit again, unzipped enough to allow him to reach into it quickly. Slung vertically over his left shoulder with one hand, he carries his sword (which, truthfully, he seems to go almost everywhere with anyway, of late) and in the other the golden token. He also appears to have sobered up quite a bit. "Are we ready, then?"

Douglas chooses to go in his own ship suit, if for no other reason than to visually show solidarity with Captain and Sakura-chan. This lets him shove his spanner in his boot, but carrying his naginata would probably be way too much. "I think so, Captain."

Sakura is wearing her flight-suit as well, as it seems more appropriate than any of her native clothes. She has armed herself and left her medical bag behind, for safety. She nods at Vash. "Aye, Captain. Ready."

Vash says, "So. We're off to see the wizard." He turns and mounts the stairs.

Douglas murmurs, "Again with the wizard..." as he lets Sakura go up first, bringing up the rear.

The group comes up the stairs and reaches the doorway into the bat priestess' suite. Standing guard is one of the jaguars and Sergeant Tenotch. The grizzled goat nods once, gravely, at Vash, accepting the token from him. "Come, here wait, I see." He paces quietly through the inner guardroom, through a doorway. The jaguar is Kualkan, the female, and she grins shyly, waggling her fingers in a discreet hello at Doug, "Aya, friend-Doug. Thankings for tour days ago, eh?"

Vash waits quietly, sparing a glance at Douglas, who blinks to Kualkan and has to smile quietly and with warmth. "You're very welcome, Kualkan, I hope you enjoyed it." The damnable thing is, he feels more sadness about this whole situation than anything. Some part of him can't forgive Azteka, the nation, and he dreads what Skydancer is going to see there -- but it's not the guards and servants and slaves that he can blame. He tries not to think about it, because the chain of cause and effect leads up to beings they call gods -- and he has no desire to think overlong about that. Sakura also waits quietly for the guard to return to bring them in.

A few moments later the sergeant comes back and waves the small group inwards, "She soon to see ready. Song over about." He gestures to a wide metal bowl or dish which is full of water, "Courtesy washings faces, hands, please?" There is a small pile of clean, simple, white linen towels next to the bowl. A beautiful, embroidered privacy curtain cuts off most of the room.

Vash nods and quickly washes up. This is, he reminds himself, a diplomatic mission. Which doesn't precisely explain why I chose to come strapped, but... oh well. Sakura washes her hands and face at the basin, as requested, then steps into the room behind Vash.

Douglas lets Captain lead the way, unless he has other plans, and when it's his turn tries not to fidget as he 'courtesy washings faces, hands.' He tries hard to be nonjudgmental of the customs, as much as they exalt the priestess and demean, well, anyone else. A twinge of long-buried resentment rises, but he squashes it; now isn't the time. He manages not to mangle the courtesy, though he doesn't like water too much, wincing as he tries to dry out his fur afterwards.

The goat and jaguar nod quietly, and then the sergeant waves the group on. The crewmates are walking on woven carpets which lead ever further inwards. The first rooms they pass through appear to be mostly storage and maybe servant quarters, but definitely not where the lady stays. However, the further in they walk, the more elegant the surroundings become... and the lower the lights get. As Tenotch leads them in through a few rooms, they can hear a soft, quiet, melodious sound, like someone singing. Eventually the singing sounds very clear and close -- then the goat sergeant opens the last door and gestures the group through, warning them to silence with a gestured finger against his lips.

This room is... beautiful but alien. Very dim, barely lit with faint, hidden glows that cast streaks of gorgeous iridescence along the walls, floor -- even the ceiling. The fierce Aztekan figures along the walls seem to almost writhe, they're so artistically woven and shaped. Tapestries, golden objects d'art, crystal skulls of various species, precious metals and stones -- there's a rainbow of shade and tone even to the group's colorblind eyes.

Huge, plump pillows with tassels and satiny decorations are comfortably mounded next to low tables of engraved metal. Crystal goblets and a gracefully curved decanter with a sparkling beverage within rest on one. Plates of nibbles rest on others. What looks like a completely unlit crystal chandelier hangs overhead. Reclining on a low, cushioned couch is the priestess, silently and intently watching as the llama sings. Tzala has a really lovely, mesmerizing voice.

Vash says nothing, simply watching, his free hand hanging relaxed at his side. Douglas glances around quietly, uneasy. The dim light doesn't bother him too much, and neither does the singing, but the images on the walls do. Something... primal, kind of, makes his mental voice raise its hackles. If his winter coat weren't already in, he'd be bristling. As it is, what fur there is on his tail is already up at attention, and it twitches a little behind him. Listening intently to the llama's song helps to get his concentration off of his nervousness.

A moment later Tzala finishes and the bat lady smiles, nodding approval and murmuring quietly. The llama beams with pleasure, then steps to pour drinks for the group at one of the low tables near the door. Her eyes widen slightly at their... choice of attire. Once she's noticed it she tends to lean away from them a bit as she pours, and she hastily crosses the room back to the reclining priestess' side as soon as she's done. Tenotch steps forward ceremonially at that point, bowing deeply, and shows the token, murmuring something in an alien tongue to the priestess, who nods once, looks at the group, and smiles graciously, "Welcome." Tenotch turns and faces the group, standing formally between and slightly to the side of the group and his mistress.

Vash inclines his head, "Thank you for seeing us on short notice."

The bat priestess' voice is a smooth, clear soprano, "It is no trouble to see to the needs of those in need." She waves languidly to the llama, who steps forward with a courteous nod to Vash, timidly offering him a small leather... string or object? Closer inspection will show that it's Kerry's little translation anklet. Xochihualpilli murmurs, "Perhaps you would like this small memento of your little friend. It is part of my thanks to you for courageously facing life without his protection. For this reason I also offer you all a position with me, should you desire protection and care, since your little friend has yet to learn the responsibilities and duties of the pilli." She smiles, adding gently, "Though you do not know our ways, we are not without honor; you are not abandoned. The pilli understand it can be frightening for you when you have no protector or defense."

Douglas hopes that the flash of very real and slightly unnerving anger that courses through him isn't visible, that his expression remains steadfastly neutral as he struggles to keep it so. He remains silent, though; diplomacy demands that Captain be the one to speak to the priestess.

Vash reaches out and accepts the translator anklet. His talons close around it as he drops his hand back to his side. "Thank you," he murmurs to the llama. Turning his attention back to the priestess, he says more clearly, though not especially loudly, "That is a very kind offer. We appreciate your concern for us, but I must decline. Our patrons will be here soon enough. Perhaps the next time you pass through here we can discuss trade."

The reclining bat lady murmurs in explanation, "His blood is changing, so it will no longer work for him. It is the first of the tests he must face to be worthy of the Hummingbird Wizard. He must learn to sing, to think in, the sacred and magical tongue of the worthy pilli, not the language of the chichimec. If he cannot pass the tests he shall still serve worthily. He will be my ixiptla in the capacocha." She looks thoughtful at Vash's words, then nods gracefully, "This is good news, both that you are protected and that your patrons are interested in trade. Very well." She turns to glance at the llama, "Tzala, show them the rest of it, please." The llama bows gracefully to the reclining bat lady, then turns to the group and gestures a touch nervously towards the door, "If you please?"

Vash nods once. "As you wish." Douglas's ears twitch at the unusual words, and he reminds himself to talk with Sakura-chan later to see if she knows what they mean, or if they'll have to consult the Indigo's computer. Sakura blinks. I wonder what 'the rest of it' is...

Despite her somewhat tense demeanor, Tzala leads the group to the guardroom of the suite -- the first one they came in through, in fact. Kualkan is still there on duty, and sitting in the middle of the room now is a large wooden barrel, like the huge, old, oaken barrels ale and beer used to be shipped in. The top has not yet been hammered on, but leans against the side of the barrel... which is about 5' tall. Tenotch, following behind the group, moves up and murmurs to the llama, who nods and hastily departs with obvious relief. Tenotch waits until Tzala's left, then smiles slightly, "Fear she from pilli priestess away. Frightening you seeming with patrons without to her."

Vash smiles just a little. "She should see me on a bad day."

Douglas glances to Tenotch, blinking; at least his tail has stopped twitching. "Frightening?" he asks without thinking, then bites his lip, rebuking himself for speaking.

Tenotch chuckles rumblingly, then nods to Doug, "Appearing you her to? As chichimec... as wild, insanity." His small smile is rueful, "Fear all she. Loot of war. Pilli priestess her rescue."

Vash mms. "Seen that happen before. Tough place to be. At least she feels protected."

Douglas ohs quietly and nods a little, thinking he got the gist of what the goat is saying. Loot of war... Maker, that llama woman was a slave, captured and considered property, maybe. 'Loot.' And we want to open trade agreements with them? What happens when The Aurora Group and its human directors get wind of Azteka? Gah, stop worrying, Doug. TAG is going to be here whether we want them to or not. And the Texans. And everyone else.

Sakura tries to stop her tail from twitching at the end, "Is that it, Vash-sama?"

Tenotch nods a little sadly at Vash's comment, then glances at the vixen with a faint smile. He taps one hard, dark hand on the edge of the barrel, "Aya. So. You all for. Taking of newly Honored One gratitude. Helping of survive you." The barrel's mouth is about two feet across. Inside can be seen the dull glow... of gold. The barrel is full of golden tokens, small statuary, jewelry, coinage... packed tightly within. Tenotch hands the token back to Vash, adding, "Happy She. Seeing again you will if wishing."

Sakura's jaw drops as she peeks into the barrel. Vash's eyes widen slightly, but he keeps his expression under control... he nods once slowly, then again to Tenotch, taking the token back. "Yeah... thanks, Tenotch. We'll probably be seeing each other again, if you come back next year. The Company will be..." He glances at the barrel momentarily, "They'll definitely want to talk about trade."

Douglas nods to Tenotch, then looks into the barrel... and his eyes widen at what's within. "Oh, Maker," he murmurs, then swallows tightly. "Captain..." he says, faintly worriedly, "-do you know what'll happen if we show this to them? To Aurora?"

Vash turns just enough to murmur, "Later, Douglas." His tone doesn't leave room for further discussion.

From behind the embroidered curtain the capybara peeks, then patters out to stand nervously slightly behind the goat. He stares with huge, dark, intense eyes at the armadillo and whispers, "Resisted, aya?" The goat rumbles sharply, "Quiet." A moment later he nods once, even though he's not looking at the capybara... who sighs in soft relief.

Vash blinks once, glancing back at Tenotch and realizing the sudden synchronicity... then grins a little. Douglas nods quickly to Vash, not having intended to discuss the point further now. He blinks at the capybara, wondering at the exchange. Tenotch covers a small grin, then nods once to Vash, "She again come. Value here great. Humans, Honored, loot, all most value here great." He sighs quietly, then stoops and picks up the lid, handing it to Vash, "We carrying help you, if wishing."

Sakura turns to Vash and switches to English. "Captain?"

Douglas feels a bit tense at what Tenotch lists as of great value in Crossroads. "Er... I'm sorry, humans?" he asks quietly.

Vash takes the lid and closes the barrel. "If you'd help us, Tenotch, I think Doug and I can get it downstairs." He says, "Yes, Doctora?"

Sakura says, "I don't think we should take it, Sir. I don't like the idea of giving them the impression that they can simply 'buy' one of our crew away from us."

Vash says, "And do you think that doing so will get him back, Sakura? Kerry wasn't purchased. He left us." Douglas nods to Vash, rolling his shoulders a little. Gold, if he remembers right, is heavy. Then he blinks, glancing to Sakura, his ears flicking a little, and looks to Vash.

Sakura shakes her head, "No, it won't get him back, Sir. I just don't feel right about doing it... but you're the Captain."

Vash says, "Nothing about this situation is right, Sakura. But there's nothing we can do to change it now. If nothing else... this will keep the Company off our backs when the time comes."

Sakura nods and switches back to the local language, "Yes, Sir."

Tenotch waits until Vash is done speaking with his crew... then he smiles and shakes his head to Vash, the golden decoration hammered onto his twisting horns glittering, "Neh, oaken with agreement have. Moving so easiest. Tell I her move to where go you." To Doug he just nods. "Aya."

Vash says, "That's actually a relief, Tenotch."

Douglas looks to Tenotch and bits his lip a bit. "I'm... sorry again, but if I may ask... how do you mean, humans here have great value?"

Tenotch grins at Vash... then glances at the cougar, "Most have humans kamay." He regards the tail twitching Doug for a moment, then adds with gentle sympathy, "Not wanting to know is not asking best."

Douglas swallows a little. And we're now strongly inducing Aurora to open up trade relations with Azteka because...? He nods at the goat's assessment and doesn't say anything more, his tail flicking a bit more agitatedly. The sergeant looks back to the armadillo, "Are ready? Oaken calling now?"

Vash nods. "Yeah. We're ready. Thanks, Tenotch."

Tenotch studies the armadillo for a long moment... then smiles, "Good you to meeting of kindred hearts. Gratitude." He steps to a wall and raps lightly on it in a pattern. A moment later Aykuh steps through, glances at the group, then nods, smiling at them, "Where do you want it?"

Vash says, "Do you think we could store it in one of the backrooms... at least until we figure out how to get it back to the ship?" Vash hasn't a clue how he's going to do that. He wonders if Alshain can even take off with that kind of payload. It's got to weigh a ton at least.

Aykuh smiles, "Of course. That's easy. Shall I just move it myself, or do you want to see where it is?"

Vash says, "You can just tell me afterward, Aykuh... I trust you." The dryad smiles again unruffledly, and she and the barrel sink silently into the floor.

Chichi and Kualkan look a bit surprised that their sergeant seems so... familiar? -with the group... but lightning doesn't strike him, so it must be okay. They both glance to be sure they're not being observed from the inner rooms, then smile timidly and wave as the group leaves. Vash smiles a little and, himself checking to make sure nobody from inside is watching, clasps Tenotch's hand. "Take care, Tenotch. Stay alive until the next time."

Sakura slips out the door, back into the hallway with a small wave to those that are still inside. Tenotch looks a bit surprised himself -- then grins widely and shakes hands firmly, "Shall I bestings do, aya! You also all among living remain." Douglas waves a bit as well, smiling quietly to the jaguar and the capybara as they wave. He waits patiently for Vash first to leave.

Vash smiles. "You know we will, Tenotch." He waves to the rest, then turns, shepherding the crew back out of the quarters.


Before long, the Cat comes padding in, looking around and sniffing curiously at Hotspur when he comes out to ask if he can help her. This bemuses the big minotaur, who takes it with good grace. Aykuh turns up, having stashed the heavy thing someplace, and says, "Oh! You came too! Thank you so much. I'm worried about Zildjian," to the sphynx.

The sphynx nuzzles the dryad cheerfully, making the wood-girl giggle despite her worry, and says, "Now, now, you said something about her not waking up, and I came by to see."

"Actually," calls Vash from the stairs, "I think we might be ready to help with that."

Cat looks up and says, "Not-a-snack! Hi!"

Sakura grins at Cat. Vash smiles a little. "Odelay, gata. Good to see you again." Douglas blinks at the greeting again, and grins quietly.

Aykuh looks up and asks, "How? Will it be long? She's not moved yet today."

Vash says, "Well... we're going to bring down some little heaters to help her warm up in the mornings. And some blankets to help her hold the heat in... we think that'll help her get through the winter, least until we come up with something more permanent."

Cat cocks her head in a very feline way and asks, "What's wrong with her temperature-shirt?" The last is a single word, but the translator has to mangle it into two.

Douglas blinks. "Temp... temperature-shirt?" Vash squints for a second, until that last word processes completely. He absently flicks his wrist as the translator mangles it.

The sphynx looks around curiously. "Her temperature-shirt. All lamia have them." A moment later she looks faintly surprised at the blank looks she's getting "Uh... doesn't yours?"

Douglas takes in a slow breath. "That... might explain much."

Vash says, "I think she shredded it back on her ship." He adds, "Wait, you mean lamia from here, don't you."

Cat looks puzzled, "Of course I do. Without them cold winters or very hot summers are hard on the sensitive snake-women."

Vash says, "Well, hell. That explains it. She hasn't got one. They never gave her one... didn't need it in Texas."

Sakura says, "Is it possible to get one for her?"

Aykuh looks at Vash, "Oh, no." She asks Cat, "Yes, where could we get one? She'll need it. She won't wake up."

The sphynx says, "That's worrisome. I don't know where you'd get one. I'd have to ask another lamia. We should try and get her down here. Get her warm enough to move, and then let her heat up near the fire. Who's warm?"

Douglas raises a hand. "I am. Uh, I think."

Vash says, "I think we all are, more or less. Doug's probably the warmest, though."

Douglas blinks, getting a sudden realization. "Hey! What about Dow?"

Vash says, "You know, that's a good idea, Doug, but I wonder if anyone's told her about Kerry yet. She might not take it well."

Douglas says, "Uh... well, then... if she doesn't take it well, we hope she's aiming at the fireplace...?"

Cat says, "Oh! Drakes can be quite warm, especially when agitated." Aykuh says, "And Dow is a friend of Zildjian's. Can someone go get her?"

Vash says, "Wouldn't hold my breath. But someone's got to talk to her about it. I'll go."

The sphynx says, "I will; I know where she lives, and she's less likely to eat me. Why don't you all try and rouse Zil with what warmth you have, until Dow comes or I come back?"

Sakura nods, "We can certainly try to warm her up. I hope she's okay..."

Vash says, "All right, Cat. Hurry back."


The spacefarers are upstairs, wedged into Zil's little nest, which took Aykuh's help to do at all. Zil isn't really awake, but she responds quite happily to heat by trying to wrap herself around it. Avoiding getting trapped in coils becomes the name of the game, and that takes everyone's attention for a while.

Dow lands on the external entry to the long-body nest and comes most of the way down, looking worried. When she sees the somnolent lamia trying to engulf the vixen, cougar, and armadillo, she can't help but laugh, though, adding, "It's very thoughtful of you to try and help." It doesn't take long for them to get the hint and move out of her way so she can slither in amongst Zil's coils, not being worried about being wrapped up. She croons softly at Zil, "Come on, long friend, wake up."

Vash extricates himself slowly. "C'mon, Doug... we better get there and back on the quick."

Douglas nods to Vash, pulling himself from the coils. "Certainly, Captain!"

Sakura pulls herself out last and watches carefully... "Are we going to the ship?"

Aykuh helps the awkward bipeds down the long snake-tube back to the dining room, and frets to the foreigners, "Zil is going need one of those shirts if she's going to make it through the winter." When Vash has said this, she nods and asks, "Once you have brought the tech, could you go and get the magic for her, too?"

Vash says, "Yeah. We have to change out the old codes, and bring down the heat for Zil..." He pauses, taking a breath, "Now might be a good time to tell the Company they can come through, too." To Aykuh he nods, "You got my word. If we can find it, we'll bring it back for her.""

The dryad smiles, "Thank you, Vash." She gives the armadillo a hug, then adds, "It's good to have a Hero around."

Vash says, "I'll do what I can, Aykuh. Promise."




Last modified: 2002-Feb-19 17:23:49

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