Morning comes early on the Gogran fishing boat. Before dawn, the sails are unfurled and the small fleet catches the morning wind, plowing through the mist covered waters towards home. When the sun finally rises above the horizon behind the boats, it seems to be mirrored ahead of them as a shiny patch on the distant shore.
Tasha's hosts, the Vykarins, are up early as well. They turn the cranks that raise the sails and power other functions of the boat, making a racket that not even the Vartan-hybrid can hope to sleep through. Not while sober, anyway.
Tasha may be used to ship noise, but not this much noise. The airship she usually works on is actually fairly quiet, not counting the crew or the pteras. The woman uncurls herself from the ball she slept in, stretching and yawning as she goes. "Oi," she remarks as she rubs her eyes, "ain't it noisy down here."
Layth has been up since before dawn out of habit. He's been fairly quiet, spending most of the time watching the crew aboard the ship and keeping an eye on Aisha. Every now and then, he casts his eyes towards the lower deck door, then comments as an aside to Aaron, "Do you think she will awaken before we arrive?"
"Who?" Aaron asks, yawning widely. "Aisha or Calli? Or do you mean Tasha?"
"Tasha," Layth notes and glances towards the other buck. "I'm sure the other two will, what with all the movement up here."
"They're probably already awake and helping with breakfast," Aaron says, and then looks to the deck hatch. "You could always go open the hatch and peek in on Tasha," he suggests.
Tasha staggers up on deck with her hands covering her ears. "It's noisy down there," she declares, rather loudly. Well, that explains if she's up or not.
"Well, we already knew that," Aaron points out to the Vartan.
Layth grins slightly. "Well, that answers that. They didn't squish her," he comments, then waves towards Tasha. "So, looking forward to seeing Lady Tyche Circerae soon?" he then asks the other buck absently.
"Uh, I'm sure she'll be busy with Calligenia," Aaron comments, and looks pointedly at the bright patch on the forward horizon.
"Perhaps planning renewed efforts about you and her," Layth teases the buck slightly.
"WHA- … " Tasha unplugs her ears, peer at Aaron as she walks up, then nods, " … oh, righ'." She shakes herself out, tail lashing, ears flopping back and forth, and shiny bits glinting in the light. The whole motion has the effect of puffing her up a bit, causing the bed lines in her fur to vanish. "What's this about renewin' efforts?"
"Lady Calli's mother, Tyche, was at one time trying to get Master Lightfoot and Calli wed," Layth explains to Tasha.
"I'm sure Calli would object to the suggestion now," Aaron says, sounding a bit unsure.
"Lil' Master Lightfoot the likes o' Calli? Ha! She'd wring 'is ears and box his tail before the day was done," Tasha remarks. She then tugs at Aaron's ears, teasingly.
"Perhaps," Layth comments with a glance toward Aaron. He then grins at Tasha and says, "Who knows, perhaps he would like that… "
"Hey!" Aaron objects and tries to pulls his ears out of Tasha's reach. "I could always suggest to Aisha that she hire you out, you know, Layth."
"An' make a buck? Ha, ha!" The hybrid woman laughs so hard it makes the tassels on her dancer's costume jiggle.
Layth merely shrugs at that. "I go with the flow of life. If she does that, well, I'm certain it would be an experience," the buck notes with a smile, then looks to Tasha. "Did you sleep well last night L … Tasha."
Once she manages to go from laughing to merely snickering, Tasha answers, "Wha'? Oh, aye, I slept jus' fine. I'm used to a wood floor, I am, an' the Vyrkarens … Vyarken … them shelled sorts were no trouble at all, until they woke up. Then it was all noise an' bother."
"I noticed. I could hear it up here quite well," Layth says with a grimace. "The two does are probably off helping with breakfast, so for now, it's us," he adds, then gets up and starts fiddling with Tasha's outfit, shifting bits here and there.
"Well, our destination is coming up, at least," Aaron says, and points to the bright spot ahead. "And it's shiny too."
Tasha watches Layth fiddle with her outfit critically, brow raised. "Tha's good, I could go wit' a spot o' breakfa- … Oh, aye, shiny?" The woman twists around to look.
"Your outfit was crooked," Layth comments and finishes. He then actually gooses the Vartan while she's looking at 'shiny'.
As the sun rises a bit higher, some of the crew begin to bring out the tables for breakfast. Cooking smells waft up from below deck as well.
The Vartan jumps, but doesn't look away testament to the alluring power of shiny over Vartan sense. "Oh, aye, shiny. Look at it!" She reaches over and grabs at Layth, trying to turn him to get a good look.
"Too bad it's a city," Aaron teases. "There's no way it could fit in your tail."
Layth grumbles and turns as the Vartan tugs him. "So, that won't get your attention if something is shiny. We're doomed," he laments. Still, the Lapi does look, seeing for the first time in many years the lands where he was born.
"I can try," Tasha insists after letting go of Layth and reaching a hand up. Using her fingers, she closes her thumb and pointer finger around the distant image of the city. "I coul' pluck it from the sky and tie it on."
"Think you could fit Master Lightfoot in your tail?" Layth asks Tasha absently. "In shiny pants, of course."
Aaron seems about to comment, but the other deck hatch opens and more Lapis begin to show up, bearing food. Aisha and Calligenia are among them, each holding a wide basket.
Tasha glances at Aaron consideringly, at least until the smell of food wins her attention away. Sniffing, Tasha turns towards the approaching meal. "'Ello Calli, Aisha," she greets the does.
"Need any help, Lady Aisha?" Layth asks the doe. "I hope both of you slept well?"
"We bring munchies," Aisha says, setting her basket down on the long table. Calli's appears to be filled with steaming, flat cakes of some sort, while Aisha's holds… well, flat, lumpy things that seem mostly green.
Tasha immediately prods the flat, lumpy, green things. "Whut's this?"
"Muffins, of course," Aisha proclaims, and picks one up to offer Layth. "I made them myself, try one!"
Layth takes the 'muffin' and looks at it curiously for a moment. But, not to offend Aisha, he actually tries a bite.
"Aye, try one!" Tasha turns around to watch Layth expectantly, grinning widely. "An' tell us 'ow much you love it!"
The crust is hard, but underneath is mostly still-raw dough, filled with chunks of dried kyootcumber or something very like it. "What do you think?" the golden doe asks Layth, looking expectant.
Layth chews slowly. "Well, I think the rolling waves must have jostled your muffins too close to the fire, Lady Aisha," he says with a sad smile. "The crust is cooked, but the inside is still a bit undercooked. You may wish to set these near the fire a bit longer. With a bit more cooking time, I imagine they'll be just fine."
Aisha's ears droop slightly. "I suppose I should practice more. It has been some time since my last cooking lessons," she admits. Then she smiles and gamely offers one to Tasha. Nearby, Aaron smirks and munches on one of Calli's griddlecakes.
"I am suddenly struck by an' idea tha' I won't be seein' much in the way o' meat foods aroun' 'ere," Tasha says with much unhappiness as she accepts the muffin.
Layth actually does finish his muffin, raw and all. "For one who hasn't cooked much lately, you did well," Layth tells her and pats her shoulder lightly. "I'll teach you a few dishes during our stay, if you like?"
One of the Vykarins nudges Tasha aside, and scoops up a handful of the muffins. She brings them to her partner, who happily cracks them open and sticks fish-chunks inside.
"That's sweet of you, Layth," Aisha says, looking a bit surprised as her culinary mutations are taken by the Vykarin.
Layth then remembers something and looks to Tasha. "Amazonian warriors eat meat, Tasha. They need the protein. You should be able to get some while here," he notes.
Tasha stumbles out of the way, then watches, curiously, as the Vykarins prepare their meal. "You think so? I'll 'ave to look in to tha', wha' wit' being a 'visitin' warrior' an' all," she remarks.
"This is plenty of meat in Dianus," Calli adds in. "For the Vykarin."
Layth nods. "The warriors where I lived did, anyway," he adds, then returns his attention back to Aisha. "Well, it is my job to look after you. Besides, I like teaching people."
"Tha's good. Maybe I'll 'ave to 'ang around more of the Vykarins." With that, Tasha wanders over to the Vykarins and gives the male one her best sad puppy face. Ears back, eyes wide and tail wagging.
"I'm sure you can teach her all sorts of useful things, Layth," Aaron notes, still smirking. "Like… dancing… and such."
The bigger Vykarin reluctantly hands over one of the fished-up muffins to Tasha.
"Dancing, certainly," Layth agrees and gives Aaron a curious look and wondering why he's smirking. "Did I miss a joke?"
Tasha shows her thanks by handing over her unstuffed muffin, then patting the big Vykarin on the back. "I appreciate it!"
"No, these are just really good cakes," Aaron says, and offers one to Layth.
Layth takes the cake, but doesn't look like he quite believes Aaron. "Somehow, I doubt that is all you meant, Master Lightfoot, but I shall not pry," he says, then takes a bite from the cake.
Calli's cakes are light and crunchy, almost like air-filled cookies. They're made with wheat, and have something sweet mixed in, possibly honey.
"With such wonderful cakes, I'm certain you'll be a happy husband," Layth notes to Aaron in a whisper, smirks back at him, then peers back towards the shore.
After giving the Vykarins a wave, Tasha returns to stand beside Layth. "I go' me a fish muffin," she tells him, before taking a big bite out of it. "Tshates … " she blinks, still chewing, " … intreshtin'."
Layth's nose wiggles and he takes in the smell of fish and kyootcumber. "Ah, yes, that must be interesting. I'll find you a bucket… " the buck says.
Beyond the docks, the city of Dianus shines like polished marble because it is polished marble. The outer walls rise a good ten meters, and the glint of bronze spearheads can be seen moving behind the battlements. The large city gates are wide open though, as the catch of the fishing fleet is being carted in.
Calli's entourage follows behind the fish carts. Several heads turn to look at Tasha, but so far there hasn't been any screaming or pointing of weapons.
Layth can't help but peer around at the other Lapis, feeling a rather odd mixture of feelings … mostly uncomfortable. "If you need me to translate anything, please ask," he whispers to Aisha.
"Well, I'm no' dead yet," Tasha remarks as she casts wary glances at the sea of Lapi around her. "'Couse, wit' that muffin, I wasn' sure I'd make it."
"You at least made it to the bucket," Layth quips, amused a bit.
"I hate cities," Aaron comments as they pass through the gate.
Once one gets used to the sparkle, there are other ways in which Dianus makes an impression. First and foremost are the people: Lapis all, in every shape and size and color (some of which seem unnatural). There are Lapi with antlers, Lapi with long flowing heads of hair, Lapi with their entire bodies covered in long flowing hair, and even Lapis with Aeonian style horns sprouting from there foreheads. And none them seem to walk everything is done at a jog or a run.
Except for the people who are sitting down in one of the plazas or around a fountain, although these seem to be mostly does with children. Most of the thick-furred rabbits go without clothing beyond belts, harnesses or backpacks, and none of the children seem to bother with clothes at all. The open spaces are crowded with stalls selling produce, prepared foods and other goods, and seem to be doing quite a bit of business for a cashless economy.
The next impressions, though, are perhaps the most shocking yet for those that are used to big, crowded cities. Foremost is the eerie silence, as Lapis generally talk in tones that carry only a few feet to the person they are talking to. The merchants don't shout and declaim, and even the laughter of the children seems muted. Added to this strangeness is the sheer cleanliness of the place, with not a single item of recognizable trash to be seen. Even the marble statues of gods and heroes are free of graffiti. And more surprisingly, there aren't any guards or watchmen to be seen.
The city itself rises up towards the center on several tiers, with a truly immense building taking up the pinnacle, festooned with giant flying buttresses to relieve the load on its stone walls. Unlike Olympia's capitol of Parthos, there are no ancient ruins or crumbling facades the city looks brand new.
Layth's brow goes up. "The mountains certainly didn't look like this," he comments to no one in particular … and for the moment, looks rather astounded by the city that slowly swallows them.
Tasha, even after rubbing her eyes a few times, still stares as if she can't believe her eyes. "I can't believe this is 'ere!" she exclaims. Then, blinking and looking at the sea of silent to her Lapi, she adds, "An' it's real quiet like." Another blink, and she repeats, this time much quieter, "It's real quiet like," as if that'd mask her previous loud comment.
Many heads turn to face Tasha as she speaks, and the conversation between a group of nursing does at the fountain stops as they all stare at the hybrid as well.
"You might want to not yell," Layth whispers to Tasha, "It attracts attention."
Tasha smiles toothily at first, then very, very tight-lipped around, and nods slowly to Layth. "I 'ad forgotten abou' that," she admits, this time in a near-whisper.
Layth tugs his own ear and nods. "Just remember, big ears, good hearing," he whispers in a reply, then smiles to the staring crowd. "No harm done," he adds a moment later in a whisper, "But, we shouldn't linger."
"Come along," Calli says to the group. "Before any priests or priestesses come around." The doe strides off towards the center of the city, managing something less than a jog.
Layth slips his arm around Aisha's to keep her close and then follows after Calli.
"Aye, would rather no' be lynched. It'd put a damper on the day," agrees the hybrid. "Still, i's righ'-creepy li', for me I 'supose. Too quiet." Tasha breaks in to a lope after Calli, easily able to keep up due to her fitness and her longer legs. "An' whut's this abou' priests?"
"They may try to lay claim to you," Aaron explains to Tasha as he jogs alongside her. "As a sacred demon or sacrifice or whatever. The priests of Abaddon have a lot of influence here, and would probably like you."
Despite the constant foot traffic, and everyone running all the time, nobody comes close to bumping into the group. Calli calls a sudden halt, however, which is just as well since Aisha was starting to run out of breath.
"So, that means stay away from the temples, I gather," Layth notes to Tasha, then stops and gives Calli a concerned look. "Is something wrong, Lady Circerae?"
"Like as in … like, or as in … like." Tasha makes a finger across her throat, to indicate the second type of like more clearly. "An' I'm no' much for sacrificin' 'specially meself." Tasha stops dead, feet clip-clopping along the ground.
Calli just holds up a hand for silence. The other traffic has stopped as well, with people opening up a sort of corridor through the crowd. The sound of jangling metal and heavy hooves on stone can be heard approaching.
Layth pulls Aisha close, looking worried, his eyes narrow.
Tasha folds her wings back, head tilting, hand on her hip. She cocks her head to the side and tries to use her significant eyesight to see what's coming.
A group of mounted warriors marches past, towering far over the heads of the regular folk. The Vykarins are half-again as big as the ones on the fishing boat, and dressed in layered, bronze-reinforced armor that covers their vulnerable undersides, along with bronze helmets featuring nasty, long spikes. Astride them are fully armored Lapi warriors, each well over six feet tall and carrying a lance. Each one glances towards the group as they pass, noticing Tasha… but they don't slow down for a closer look.
Layth looks notably nervous, his hands twitching slowly. Still, he doesn't move, save for trying to keep between them and Aisha.
Tasha looks up … and up, and up. When one of the mounted warriors nears her, she instinctively steps backwards. "Oi," she murmurs with a mix of appreciation and worry.
Aisha's mouth hangs open in awe and not a little fear. Aaron actually steps behind Tasha to avoid attention, but the trailing warrior seems to spot him anyway, from her lingering look.
"Know them?" Layth asks in a low whisper towards Aaron, noticing the look towards the smaller buck.
As soon as the warriors are past, traffic begins again as people go about their business.
"Kerebos," Aaron mutters to Layth. "My clan. Thank goodness my parents won't be around… "
"Are you on bad terms with your clan?" Layth inquires next, curious.
"Well tha' ws intimidatin'," remarks Tasha as she watches the warriors head down the street. Hearing Aaron's remark, she glances at him and asks, "They're your family? Oi, you, that's some family!"
"What? No, just… they're embarrassing," Aaron admits, then starts moving to keep up with Calli.
"Why are they embarrassing?" Layth asks Aaron next and follows after them. And with a glance towards Tasha, he notes, "My mother was that big. Scary, indeed."
"They seemed like monsters out of a nightmare," Aisha whispers, keeping close to Layth.
"Yeah, now imagine a phalanx of a thousand of them marching into Olympia," Aaron hisses. "And you can imagine why I don't want them having too much contact with the outside world."
"My clan had a lot of warriors that size," Layth tells Aisha. "Not so … ornate, but just as scary. I did try to warn you not to come here… "
"Me mum's big, bu' no' that tall," Tasha admits. "'Course they can't fly, so, nuts to 'em, eh?" She elbows Layth, then quickly looks around to make sure none of the nearby Lapi understood her Standard.
Layth oofs and glances at Tasha. "Yes, 'nuts' to them. As long as they don't understand you, I take it?" he asks with a grin.
"I hear that some of the high-altitude Valkyrian tribes have learned to ride Rahktors, Tasha," Aaron says to the hybrid.
Tasha winks at Layth in response to his question. "Cap'n Eyeshine always said my mouth'd ge' me in trouble some day." She then frowns at Aaron. "Burst me bubble, will you!" She reaches for his ears, again, but pauses and seems to think better of it.
"Wow, I think she's afraid of you now, Master Lightfoot," Layth notes when he sees her stop her reach for his ears.
Keeping up an easy pace, it doesn't take very long before the group has passed through another gate into a different part of the city. The crowds are all but gone here, along with the marketplaces. The neighborhood seems very much like the resort of Elysia, only in much better condition. There are villas and mansions and extensive gardens. And children, of course, laughing and playing and running all over the place.
"I am no'!" Tasha insists with some vigor. "I'm afraid o' his giant family! 'Course, … I coul' always tell 'em abou' the shiny pants some time." She grins widely.
Aaron's ears flop down predictably at the mention of 'shiny pants'.
"Pity you can't show them the picture," Layth comments to Tasha and peers around the new area. "Feeling any better?" he asks Aisha.
"Just… I'm not used to running so far," Aisha complains, catching her breath. "In Abu Dhabi things move at a much more leisurely pace."
"No' sure wha' they'd think o' me, o'course," Tasha tells Layth. Glancing around at all the conies, the hybrid woman shakes her head. "I ain't never seen so many lil' Lapi abou'. It's like a sea."
"Would you like me to carry you?" Layth actually asks Aisha.
Some of the older conies spot Calligenia, and then run off towards one of the mansions.
"We have arrived, so that will not be necessary, Layth," Calli informs everyone. "Welcome to the estates of Clan Hydron."
"And perhaps your new home… " Layth whispers quickly to Aaron, just to tease the buck. He grins briefly, then resumes looking around, trying to judge just how big the estate is.
Tasha stops, looking up at the villa. "It's a righ' nice home you 'ave here, Calli. All shiny an' big an' shiny," she says appreciatively.
Aisha seems impressed as well. "Such a nice neighborhood. Which one is Hydron's?" she asks, looking at the various villas and mansions.
"Ah, all of it, Lady Aisha, I imagine," Layth whispers.
"Layth's right," Aaron tells Aisha in a small voice. "The entire center of the city, including the Coliseum, belongs to Hydron."
The golden doe seems to go stiff for moment, her whiskers twitching asynchronously.
"Are you all right?" Layth asks Aisha and nudges her.
"I saw some o' them little ones runnin' off, I though' tha' was it. ALL o' this?" Tasha spins slowly in place, looking around. "Dagh's left eye!"
"On Rephidim, Calli shared a room with a barmaid," Aisha says quietly, still in apparent shock.
"We made 'er sleep in a cabin … " Tasha remarks, head shaking. "It was the best we 'ad … "
"They don't use the same exchange that the world does. Out there she isn't … wealthy like she is here," Layth tries to explain.
"I sleep on a cot," Tasha complains. "I'm no' wealthy anywhere!"
"Yeah, if you haven't guessed, Calli's mother is probably the most powerful and wealthiest woman in the world if anyone outside of Amazonia knew about her and applied external standards of wealth to all of this," Aaron admits.
"And you didn't want to marry Lady Circerae?" Layth looks at Aaron, and then shakes his head. "You are even crazier than I feared."
"When I met Calli, she'd never even heard of a book," Aaron says. "Dianus is pretty and all, but it's a far cry from civilization."
"If only Cap'n Eyeshine could see this. Oi, I don' quite know wha' I ought to be doin' here. I jus' came along an' … Oi." Tasha kneels briefly, then launches in to the air ten feet. There she hovers, providing a breeze, as she peers across the landscape. "It goes on an' on! Layth, I'm feelin' a bi' poor 'ere." A pause, and then. "REALLY poor."
"Get back down here," Layth hisses and waves his arms. "They might shoot you!"
"When you conquer a city, you can be a queen too, Tasha," Aaron says. By now several adult Lapi are approaching. The men aren't any taller than usual, nor are the does. They don't have any real family resemblance to Calligenia either, but they bow to her and share a quick, muted conversation in Olympian.
Tasha drops from the sky with a loud thump, kneeling where she lands. "I think," she wheezes, "tha' my jealousy is already killin' me!"
"A city, is it? Hmmm," Tasha adds a moment later, after she's had a moment to think about it.
Layth pats Tasha's back lightly. "Remember, life is not all about money," he says. "You were happy before you knew about this place, yes? You can be happy after. It's all just stuff. Stuff will come and go with the ages."
Calli turns to the others, and says, "I will go and speak to my mother now, if the rest of you will please follow the attendants. You're to come with me too, Xavier."
Aaron just sighs. "I guess it's up to you keep Aisha and Tasha out of trouble, Layth," he says.
"Good luck, Master Lightfoot," Layth tells Aaron, and this time Layth looks worried a bit and not teasing. "I'll keep these two in line, do not worry."
"I'm no' sure I can forge' abou' this. I owe i' to Eyeshine an' meself to try an' make it 'ere," the Vartan whispers to Layth. After standing, she looks around again and tugs at her braid. "I'm no trouble a' all!"
Tasha grins at Aaron, though. "Give her the ol' Rephidim spirit, Arrow."
"Good luck yourself," Aaron tells Tasha, then is led away with Calli towards a low building that appears to be all pillars and a roof. The remaining attendant is a young doe, who looks nervously at Tasha and Layth, then says in Olympian, "You will please follow me." She makes it sound almost like a question.
"I think she wants pees for somethin'," Tasha informs Layth as she peers at the doe curiously.
Layth offers the doe a polite bow. "We would be honored to. Please, lead on," he says in Olympian. With a look to the others, he translates, "We are to follow her."
Tasha's ears shoot up at the translation. "I knew tha'," she insists. "I was jus' testin' you all."
"At least you understood part of it," Layth tells Tasha and pats her arm.
The doe leads the three travelers to a nearby villa, where some sort of contest is going on in the central yard, judging from the crowd. They end up in a room facing the yard, with the wall fully open (although there are sliding partitions that can be closed, it appears). "If you will wait here, I will bring you some refreshments. Is there anything else you require?" the attendant asks. There isn't any furniture in the room, just mounds of stuffed pillows.
"Wait … rest for … anythin' … needed … " says Tasha as she slowly works out the doe's words, aloud. She scratches her head, then shrugs uncomprehendingly.
"She asks us to wait here. She also wants to know if there are any refreshments that we might like," Layth translates, then smiles to the doe. "Oh, forgive my manners. My name is Layth, this is Tasha, and this is Lady Aisha. May I inquire as to your name?" he asks the doe.
"I am Chloe, and will be your servant during your stay," the doe replies to Layth, with a smile.
"I am honored to meet you, Chloe. Thank you for your kindness," Layth tells her. "The others do not speak Olympian well and I have to translate for them. Give me a moment and I will see if they require anything." The buck then looks expectantly at the other two. "Do either of you need anything… ?"
Tasha casts a uneasy glance around the room, then says, "I'm no' sure wha' I ought an' ask for tha' won't ge' me killed, sick, or stolen by the gods. Then after peering at Chloe, Tasha asks, "Di' she jus' say she's is the Chloe that's the slave wait? Or is i' wait slave for the Chloe. What's a Chloe?"
"Her name is Chloe," Layth tries to clarify.
Aisha looks a bit lost, but seems to snap out of it once she sits down on the pillows. "Oh… perhaps something pungent to drink, to hide the smell of fish?" she requests.
Tasha nods, dimly. "Oh. Righ'."
Layth shakes his head then turns back to the doe. "Ah, perhaps some wine for both of them. Lady Aisha would like something to cleanse the smell of fish, and Tasha … she likes drinking," he tells Chloe. "As for myself, well … I am fine for now. I will partake of whatever they decide they do not want."
Glancing at Aisha, Tasha asks, "Feel li' you're in some kind 'o wunnerland ye'? The ones tha' eat children?"
Chloe bobs her head to Layth, and exits out into an interior hallway. There isn't any door in the doorway, just a flimsy curtain the doe pushes aside.
"She seems nice," Layth tells the others. "I think she's a bit afraid of us, though."
"I'm just a little light-headed from the run," Aisha claims, her nose twitching. "And… are those two naked men out there covered in olive oil?" she suddenly asks, looking out into the yard.
Layth peers out into the yard.
"Fear's the cargo on the good ship adventure," Tasha remarks with no lack of sarcasm. Her wry expression vanishes, though, at the mention of naked men. Pushing Layth aside or, rather, bouncing off him Tasha walks forward and peers out in to the courtyard. "Aye?"
When the breeze changes, the smell of olive oil becomes stronger, and indeed there are two bucks with wet, shiny fur engaged in a wrestling match within a circle of sand. They aren't alone, as most of the spectators around them are also large bucks, bereft of any clothing.
"Ah, yes. Wrestling. Please, do not stare. That is normal here," Layth notes to the two women and shrugs. "It's not much different from the arena back in Abu Dhabi, if you remember, Tasha. All men wore there were loincloths and used water to slick down fur."
Unlike the sort of wrestling matches Tasha or Layth may have seen in other parts of the world, the audience to this one is silent and closely watching every move, rather than yelling, cheering or making wagers on the outcome. Eventually, the larger of the competitors looses his grip, and is pinned to the sand by the older, gray and white buck he was grappling with.
"An' I was watchin' tha' too," Tasha insists. Walking backwards while watching she explains, "'Course, I can see 'em jus' fine from the back o' the room."
"I've never seen… " Aisha whispers, wide-eyed. She fumbles for words, then adds, "And they're as big as you, Layth. Maybe bigger… "
"You may want to face another direction, Lady Aisha," Layth notes and sits down beside her. "And they may be. Hard to say with them over there and me over here. I am … average for an Amazonian male."
The victor of the match is perhaps not quite as tall as Layth, but certainly taller than Aaron. As he steps out of the circle, a bunch of conies break through the circle of bucks and set out a stool for him to sit on, then begin to meticulously clean the sand out of his fur.
Tasha stops walking backwards when she nears Aisha. Patting the other woman's shoulder, she leans over and inquiries quietly, "So they're bigger than Layth, is i'?"
"And no getting any ideas of getting me to wrestle naked," Layth comments and eyes the two women. He then dips his head to Aisha and says, "And a thousand pardons, I do not believe you would ask that of me."
"Some are, I'm certain," Aisha says, then blushes to her eartips and says, "Wait… that may have sounded… I didn't mean… "
"I would! 'Ave at it, Layth," Tasha cheers the man. To Aisha, she grins. "You didn'? Well I did. Amazonia's go' a nice view, it does."
Chloe returns at that moment, carrying a platter of cheese, vegetables, breads and various dipping sauces, along with a tureen of wine and three bronze goblets. She sets everything right on the floor.
Layth lightly thumps Tasha's arm with the back of his hand. "You, behave. We are guests here," he tells her. He then dips his head to Aisha and smiles, "I know what you meant, Lady Aisha, do not worry, no offense was taken."
After pouring the wine, Chloe steps back and takes a seat out of the way, in case she's needed again. She glances at the seated buck outside and smiles.
Tasha wags her tail at Layth, then walks over to pick up one of the bronze goblets. Looking more interested in the wine cup than the wine, the Vartan lifts the cup and peers at it interestedly. "Speakin' o' nice views, this is a nice cup. A shiny cup. I see eatin' here is jus' as much fun to watch," she tells no one in particular.
Layth smiles to Chloe when she returns. "Ah, much gratitude to you, Chloe. Thank you for the repast. My companions are fascinated by the wrestling in the courtyard. Is it a daily occurrence?" he asks the doe. And after counting the glasses, adds to the question, "And you will not be joining us?"
"Oh, I don't drink wine, Layth," Chloe says, sounding quite informal. "And it is not always wrestling. The gladiators train at many different skills at different times."
Tasha perks an ear to listen at the conversation between Layth and Chloe. Judging from the way her brow creases, she doesn't seem to be getting it. "I 'eard "gladiator," an' tha's it," she complains before taking a sip of wine.
"I don't generally either, but I know Tasha enjoys a drink and Aisha wants to cleanse her nose," Layth notes, then picks up a glass and sniffs it lightly. "Are the gladiators out there friends of yours? If I may be so bold about asking, your smile towards them indicated to me that you know them."
The wine is fragrant and fruity, but not very strong. It would probably take the entire amount just to feel an alcoholic buzz. "I do not know them personally, of course," Chloe says. "But everyone knows Zig-Zig," she notes, and nods towards the older, seated Lapi that the others seem to be deferring to.
Tasha peers in her cup, frowning. "Mus' be juice," she mumbles, sounding disappointed. Looking up, she tells Layth, "Di' she jus' say "Zig-Zig"? Aaron said somethin' about a 'Zig-Zig,' tha' 'e's one o' the top o' the House."
"Well, we do not, I am afraid," Layth notes with a smile. To the others, he says, "Those are gladiators of clan Hydron. The older one is named Zig-Zig. They practice different skills during the day."
Chloe seems genuinely shocked at the visitors' unfamiliarity with the name, and even with the language. "Surely you are pulling my ears? Zig-Zig is the greatest gladiator of all time, never having been defeated in over one hundred matches. He is the most in-demand priapus in Hydron's history."
"I caught tha'! I know who Zig-Zig is," Tasha insists. In hurried Olympian, Tasha repeats what she just said.
Layth shakes his head. "Well, not well. The name was mentioned once or twice by Master Lightfoot. We are from a distant land and clan. We came here at the invitation of Lady Circerae," he explains vaguely. "I do imagine, though, Tasha may like to meet him as you see. She was curious to meet the gladiators."
The naturally louder voice of Tasha speaking his name catches the attention of the gladiator, who peers curiously towards the open room. Since it is dark inside and bright outside, however, it is hard to tell if he actually sees Tasha or not.
With her considerable vision, Tasha seems to pick up on the man watching her though. "E's lookin' at me," she exclaims to Layth, "Wha' do I do?!"
Chloe looks at Tasha, and especially at her dress and empty scabbard. "She has come for Zig-Zig's services then?" she asks Layth. "I would see how winged children would be very valuable."
"No, not those sort of services," Layth says quickly, and doesn't bother translating that bit for Tasha for fear she would want that. "She is more interested in perhaps participation in some more non-lethal events while she is here, to learn more about the fighting styles and the like."
"I didn't understand most of that," Aisha whispers to Layth. "What is 'priapus'?"
Layth almost coughs. He leans over and whispers to Aisha, "Professional breeder. He is paid to sire children with does who can afford him."
Chloe seems confused at the explanation, and looks at Tasha once more. "Forgive me, but, she is a visiting warrior, is she not? Warriors do not participate in gladiator games."
"Wai', wha' was tha'? I could'n' figure tha' … wait … Professional wha'?" Tasha's ears skew, and she peers back out at the buck watching her.
Layth then looks to Tasha and says, "You keep quieter or they might come over here."
Tasha glances at Layth and sticks her tongue out at him!
Probably the glint from the shiny bits of Tasha's outfit catches Zig-Zig's attention, since he stands up and starts towards the room, leaving the other gladiators behind as they prepare the next pair of competitors.
Layth turns back to Chloe again and says, "The traditions where she is from are different. Tasha is most unusual and likes to engage in various physical events to test strength and for, well … she likes challenge."
… and when Tasha looks back from Layth, she gives a start when she sees Zig-Zig approaching! "O' 'ell," she says under her breath.
Sighing, Layth picks up a pillow and thumps Tasha with it. "Calm down," he hisses!
So focused on Zig-Zig's approach was she, Tasha doesn't even see the pillow coming. It flattens her perked ears and makes her yelp!
The gladiator walks into the room, still glistening, and focuses his attention on Aisha. Bowing deeply first, he says, "My ears were burning, pretty one."
Layth rubs the bridge of his nose. "He says his ears were burning," Layth translates to Aisha.
Her own ears turned down to hide her blush, Aisha hisses, "I figured that much. Why is he coming to me though?"
"Maybe 'e likes you, you're a pretty one, Aisha," Tasha whispers as she tries to smooth her ears out.
"You're a doe, you're pretty, why else?" Layth tells Aisha. He then dips his head to the other buck and says, "A thousand pardons, sir, but we are travelers. Lady Aisha only speaks a little of the language here. We did not mean to disturb you."
Chloe bows to Zig-Zig, and says, "Forgive us, gladiator. The loud red one was merely making known her admiration."
Catching Layth's movement, Tasha offers a bow too.
At the bow, Zig-Zig finally notices Tasha, and his eyes go wide in surprise at the sight of her wings. "Travelers?" he asks, and begins to walk around Tasha, looking her over closely.
Tasha keeps her head down, but her eyes watch the gladiator's feet fixedly. Nervously, her wings twitch, and her tail dances. "Is 'e goin' to kill me," she asks Layth, quite seriously.
Layth nods. "Lady Aisha is a friend of Lady Calligenia Circerae and has been assisting her in expanding trade routes. Tasha," Layth tries to explain and motions toward Tasha, "Is a skilled ship navigator and has also been assisting with trade." He then shakes his head no at Tasha.
"Ah, Calli has returned from the demon lands?" Zig-Zig says, a look of understanding coming over him. He stands in front of Tasha, then reaches down to cup her muzzle and urges her to stand up.
"Yes, she is speaking with her mother now. Master Lightfoot is with her," Layth answers.
Tasha nods slowly to Layth, muscles relaxing as her tension drops. Slowly, she sits up to watch the gladiator watch her. "I learned of you frommmrrmrm." The woman stands, guided by her muzzle, and blinking in surprise. "Rrr?"
"Who is Master Lightfoot?" Zig-Zig asks, while feeling the structure of Tasha's face with his fingers, and even pushing her lips back to look at her teeth.
"You perhaps know him by the name Xavier, of Clan Kerebos," Layth answers. "His name is Aaron Lightfoot in other parts of the world."
While being inspected, Tasha's ears shoot up, and her tail tucks. Eye wide, she watches the legendary gladiator like a deer on the headlights.
"Oh yes, Xavier Athenae, the small cousin of Roland," Zig-Zig says. "Linnea the Black's son." The buck keeps up his almost clinical examination of Tasha, and even sniffs her while he maps out the muscles of her upper arms and wings.
Layth pauses there and translates the conversation for Aisha and also the apparently nervous Tasha. "I apologize if we disturbed your practice," Layth then resumes. "Tasha was impressed by what she observed. She is not used to speaking with a quiet voice."
Tasha seems rather stunned by the casual inspection, blinking uncertainly and occasionally shooting Layth and Aisha a worried look. She does not, however, stop the undefeated Dianus gladiator.
Zig-Zig kneels down to feel Tasha's legs under her shiny pants, and forces her up onto one hoof so he can have a look at the other one. "It is of no concern," he says to Layth. He lets go of the hoof, and comes around to face Tasha again.
Tasha inhales stiffly when her upper legs are felt, holding her breath. When the man finally lets go and stands to face her, she stares at him with a mix of confusion and, yes, even a bit of a blush. The inner parts of her ears are definitely redder than they were a moment ago. She doesn't even say anything!
The gladiator tilts his head to one side in thought, and then casually feels up Tasha's chest. "Hmmm. I would ask for the first born male child, should he be winged," he finally says. "She can keep the rest, or I will give her… hmm… up to three others if the boy is born first."
Tasha's muzzle opens, as if she were about to say something, but apparently she can't quiet manage it because it just hangs open like a broken barn door.
Layth blinks repeatedly. Not sure it's wise to translate that … but he does anyway and then looks at Aisha and Tasha apologetically.
Aisha turns away and takes a big gulp of wine rather than continue watching the examination. "He must be a doctor," she whispers to Layth.
Layth shakes his head and whispers to Aisha, "Professional stud, as I said. He sires children."
"That is a very generous offer," Chloe says to Tasha while smiling.
Layth translates Chloe's comments too. "So, what is your reply to him?" Layth asks Tasha.
Aisha watches Tasha to see what she says as well, now that Zig-Zig has stopped fondling the woman.
When the translation sinks in, Tasha's ears shoot up, and her eyes widen. "OI! I, um, er … " Her mouth works, wordlessly, for several seconds as she tries to figure out what to say. After staring at Chloe blankly, then Layth wide-eyed, Tasha tells the gladiator, "We'll have to discuss this!" Then she makes a noise that sounds distinctly like "rrr!"
"You will, of course, be given accommodation here until the conclusion of the contract," Chloe points out. "Our midwives are excellent."
Layth rubs his face. For a moment, it looks like he's literally rubbing a smirk off his face. He turns his attention back to Aisha and notes, "This is what Lady Circerae talked to you about, about me. People may ask you about my services."
"What… I can't be accepting babies in exchange for… " Aisha sputters, then turns to Tasha and tells her, "Turn him down, if you have any sanity. Even if you could… produce… it's not worth handing one over."
"And if you can't… then you'd be stuck here forever, with this man constantly trying," the golden doe points out.
Layth nudges Aisha. "Remember who you're talking to. She would enjoy that… " he says quietly.
Aisha's words seem to wilt some of Tasha's enthusiasm, and she turns to the other woman to explain, "I said I'll have to talk it over. You've go' your fancy place an' money, bu' this could be a good way for me to give my kids a good 'ome an' a way in wit' the city. An' besides," Tasha gestures at the gladiator obviously, "'e a looker!" When Aisha continues, she blinks, and a mixed expression flashes across Tasha's face. "Aye? Have to think abou' tha', too."
"You could find a randy rich man, who would not want your firstborn son as payment in Abu-Dhabi," Aisha points out. "I can introduce you to several. And what happens after this 'contract' is over? Are you just tossed out with the three children you're allowed to keep?"
"Tasha … would you like me to tell him you are honored by the offer and will consider it and contact him later with an answer?" Layth asks, deciding he better diffuse the situation soon before Aisha gets really upset.
"I … Aye, you've got some sense there, Aisha," Tasha agrees, finally. She then nods to Layth but tells him, "I got it." To the gladiator, Tasha explains, "I am really tempted, and honored besides, but there are complexities that make such a union extremely unwieldy," in Olympian.
Zig-Zig's expression doesn't change as he bows and says, "Of course. I will always keep an opening in my schedule for you should you change your mind. For such an exotic doe, I would even consider seeing you recreationally." He takes up Tasha's right hand kisses the back of it.
Layth translates that in case Tasha didn't understand it particularly the last part as he imagines it would interest her the most.
Tasha looks blank when the gladiator speaks, an expression she seems to be getting good at. After the buck kisses her hand, she stares at it, rubbing it tenderly as if she wasn't sure what to make of the gesture. "I would like to see you again," she tells the gladiator, "I will cheer for you in the arena."
"If we fight, you must cheer for me," Tasha adds, then suddenly grins in a non-toothy way.
The gladiator bows once more and returns Tasha's smile, then musses up the top of Chloe's headfur as he returns to the training yard.
Once the gladiator has returned to the yard, Tasha lets out a nervous laugh and falls on her butt amidst a heap of pillows.
"I'm surprised," Aisha admits. "I thought Tasha would have charged him something for letting him paw her all over like that."
Layth just rubs his temples and settles down heavily into the pillows. "Well done. Accent was a bit off, but well done," he tells Tasha. He then looks to Aisha and says, "Lady Aisha, please forgive me … but you can't let the customs here upset you. Things are different here. Families are different."
"I don' charge people for touchin' me, Aisha," Tasha says, firmly. "I may sleep aroun', bu' I', no a whore. He was jus' … well you saw 'im. I was a lil' dazzled, an' I though I saw a good opportunity, or … Oi." She laughs again, nervously.
"They can't all be business arrangements like that," Aisha says firmly, then asks Chloe in her best Olympian, "Who will sire your children?"
Layth puts his face in his hands.
The servant doesn't seem surprised by the question. "I am only a slave, and will never be able to afford a priapus," she answers candidly. "I will just have to settle for love."
"I 'ave a question," Tasha says, then repeats in Olympian for Chloe. "If I went through with that, what would have happened with my son? And would that arrangement have tied me to this House? Given me the approval of Dianus through my children?"
Chloe blinks at Tasha's question, then says, "The son you leave with Hydron would become a slave, of course, and possibly a gladiator or priapus if he was hardy. A winged gladiator's seed would be in very high demand. You would certainly not be part of Clan Hydron though. Only marriage to a full clan member would provide that."
"Thank you." To the rest of her party, Tasha says, "I was afraid o' tha'. Aisha's righ', I can't risk i'. I need a better way to get in good with a 'Ouse 'ere."
"As I said, families are different here. Love is … secondary," Layth says quietly to Aisha. "And this city is better than the wilds outside it."
"Get in good?" Aisha asks Tasha. "Do you think they'd let your airship come here?"
Layth smiles briefly to Chloe and says, "I must apologize again. And for any other problems we may cause you later. They really do not know the customs of these lands. Thank you for your patience."
"No' 'ere exactly. We could land far off, an' meet wit' them. See, Calli's tryin' for trade, bu' she's doin' it through a lo' o' middlemen. If I coul' get the shekels, or, um, whats-it that's used 'ere, I could get Dianus it's /own/ airship, captained by /me/, an' we'd all make a fortune,/ explains Tasha. "I jus' got to, rrr, convince 'em."
Chloe seems a bit confused by Layth's statement, but smiles and nods all the same. "I am sure it is very overwhelming for barbarians," she says.
"Layth, ask her how they react to airships," Aisha asks. "I don't know the proper word in Olympian."
"I think I know," Tasha laments. "Tha's part o' the problem."
Layth has to think on how exactly to translate that. He then looks back to Chloe and asks her, "How would this city react to a ship that can fly through the air?"
"I can pilot a flying ship," Tasha adds, to see the doe's reaction.
"Oh, the sky boats?" Chloe asks. "We turn the Gaze of Primus upon them until they burn. Or if they try to flee, the Lance of Cyclon strikes them down."
"They shoot them down," Layth translates simply.
"I was afraid 'o tha'," replies Tasha, nodding slowly. Then, getting an idea, Tasha asks, "Do you think Dianus would like its own sky boat, to serve Dianus' trade, as the ships of the sea do?"
Layth raises his hand. "We should wait to discuss this with Master Lightfoot around. You know his concerns about contact with the outside world, Tasha."
Chloe seems to stare blankly at Tasha for a moment, then replies, "We already trade within the clans. The boats bring in fish. Why would we need a sky boat?"
"I was thinkin' o' that. S'part o' why I kept the idea goin'. If it was you an' me, we could 'andle it as the middlemen, 'cause we already know abou' this place. If you think abou' Calli, she's righ' obvious sometimes," Tasha tells Layth. Then she nods to Chloe, and says, "I will have to discuss it with a Clan representative."
"Okay. Just … be careful. Er, wait, what is this about me?" Layth asks and gives Tasha a rather curious look.
Tasha smiles at Layth. "I figure, if they let Calli wan'er aroun' an' trade, an' she's go' her own boat, why no' an airship? This is the bes' chance I'll ever 'ave to get me own ship. If they don' like it, tha's that. S'not like I can do anythin' withou' their support," she explains.
"A thousand pardons, but she hates heights," Layth points out. "That will not be an easy sell. Most Lapi are affected by heights. Myself and Master Lightfoot are exceptions because our heritage and experiences."
"I'm not fond of them, certainly," Aisha admits.
Tasha gives a languid shrug. "I'm no' 'oldin' my breath, I'm no'. I jus' figure I best try while I 'ave the chance, or else I'll always won'er if it could 'ave been."
"I'm not, if only because I was born in the Vykarin mountains," Layth notes. "I got used to them when young." He then just nods to Tasha, "As you like, Tasha. I'm just … I don't want problems while here."
"Did I hear someone say 'Lightfoot' in here?" comes a voice from outside, followed soon after by the presence of a large buck at the open wall of the room. He is taller than Zig-Zig, and almost completely black, save for a white ear, a patch around one eye, a hand and a foot. In fact, he looks exactly like Aaron, just color-reversed. And much bigger and hunkier. With his arms crossed against his chest, he looks about, and says, in accented Standard, "Just where is Xavier?"
"An'," Tasha adds, "I can train a crew, mostly. I jus would 'ave to find the righ' Lapi. I be' Zig-Zig would know, I'd 'ave to ask him if there was any interest. An' you coul' come too, Layth. We'd be ric-" Tasha pauses, looking up at the newcomer. "Oi! Aaron inflated," she sputters.
"Master Lightfoot is with Lady Calligenia Circerae, in audience with her mother," Layth answers the Lapi. He stands up and bows, adding, "I presume you are a brother, perhaps?"
"Cousin," the buck answers, then blinks and looks at Layth again. "You must be Anysia's older brother. I am Roland Athenae."
Layth shakes his head. "A thousand pardons, but I do not know of anyone named Anysia. May I inquire as to why you would think that?" he asks.
"I see Aaron go' the small die when the gods gambled ou' height," Tasha remarks, looking the cousin up and down. "I'm Tasha!"
"You mean you aren't another Snowshoe?" Roland asks, and then looks at Tasha and goes speechless.
Apparently feeling bold after her encounter with the gladiator, Tasha makes a melodramatic, "Rawr!" at Roland.
"Ah, well … my father was from the Vykarin mountains and was likely a Snowshoe … but. It's a long story, Master Athenae," Layth admits apologetically.
Chloe finally stands up and bows to Roland, then recoils a bit at Tasha's roar.
"I tease all Lightfoots," Tasha explains to Chloe. "It is the way of my tribe."
"Do you challenge me, warrior?" Roland finally replies to Tasha.
Layth rubs his eyes, thinking, "This is bad".
Tasha's eyes widen, and she whips her head around and holds up her hands. "Oi, no! You jus' look so much like Aar- Xavier I feel like I know you. I'm always givin' 'im gruff. It's, a … sign o' favor an' … respect. Shows I like you!"
The dark buck continues to stare at Tasha for a moment, before his lop-ears twitch and he grins. "You are a Vartan half-breed, am I correct?" he asks.
"No' that I can't take you! Zig-Zig's volunteered to give me pointers later." Tasha winks at the dark buck. "I am. Nice tha' someone notices tha' for once. In Abu Dhabi they think I'm a demon, an' on the way here they thought I was a Vykarin! Next person what asks, I'm goin' to tell 'im I'm a genie an' grant wishes."
"I can see why you would be Xavier's friend, as you have much in common," Roland tells Tasha.
"Love of shiny pants?" Layth can't help but ask.
"I of'en mistake 'im for an imp," Tasha agrees.
"Both runts of the litter," Roland says, with a big grin that shines against his dark face.
Layth coughs … it sounds suspiciously like a laugh, really.
Tasha blinks, then laughs! "I'm plenty big, I am." She pulls herself up, then puts a hand on her hip. "Zig-Zig though' a lot o' me, he did! An', I," she peers up at the tall really tall buck, and seems to lose some steam, finishing, " … well I'm an' only child. I can see why you're Xavier's cousin, now, I can! I'd tug your ears if I could reach 'em!"
Roland musses up Tasha's hair, and says to Layth, "So, another wayward Valkyrian. And who is this golden goddess hiding behind you?"
Layth taps his forehead and seems to be remembering something. "Master Lightfoot may have mentioned you during the voyage. Are you Clan Kerebos' Priapus?" he asks, then looks over his shoulder. "Oh, forgive me. This is Lady Aisha from Abu Dhabi."
Aisha shyly offers, "I am Aar… Xavier's brother's wife's cousin."
Tasha staggers a bit, only half-heartedly fighting the mussing. Hair now slightly askew, she plops down near Roland and begins trying to fix it. "Aisha's a shy one," he tells Rolland.
"Yes, I am still holder of that position," Roland says, as if it really didn't matter much. "So, another relative, if by marriage and not blood! Xavier always seems to bring around the most interesting people. Are any of you mages?"
"I am afraid not," Layth apologizes.
"My mother'd brain me if I was a mage. She doesn' much talk abou' 'er religion, bu' she's as superstitious as can be sometimes," Tasha replies. "I'm jus' an airship driver."
"Then if that is the typical uniform aboard an airship, I may have to ride on one someday," Roland says to Tasha, then notices Chloe and asks, "Where is Tyche right now?"
Finally hearing something she understands, Chloe straightens up and says, "In the Baths of Dawn, Roland."
Tasha looks down at her outfit. "Oi, I'm wearin' this to seem less intimidatin'. Though I'd learn to dance, too, an' I'm a bit sick o' wearin' a tunic."
"Well, then we should all go to the baths," Roland says. "We can tease my cousin, and you can get rid of that fishy smell that clings to you all."
"Ah, it did not seem that we were invited there earlier. We were told to go with Chloe," Layth notes and glances to Aisha, then Tasha. "Would we be even welcome to go there?"
"Well, if not, then Tyche can toss us out," Roland says, still grinning. "But she hasn't tossed me out before."
"I always li' a nice hot bath," Tasha agrees. "Got to admit, I'm still no' used to your custom 'ere. Bu' wha' the 'eck. In for a for a silver, in for a gold."
"Well, as long as we do not get in trouble. It is my duty to keep Lady Aisha safe," Layth relents and then offers his hand to Aisha to help her up.
"Anything to get rid of the fish odor," Aisha says as she takes Layth's hand. "How bad can a bath be, after all?"