Harvest 20 (Morning), 6106 RTR (Dec 19, 2009) After several days of rest, Umeko, Anisa, Xander and Gibson depart, saying their temporary farewells to Lilac (now going by Lisandra) who chooses to remain behind.
(Anisa) (Legend of the First Stone) (Lisandra) (Sylvania) (Umeko) (Xander)
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It's been a handful of days since the fateful battle atop the highest tower of Castle Pieksvaldt, the town steadily recovering from its return to normality. Just as the darkness eventually came to an end, so to does time move on for other things; today, it is time Anisa, Umeko and Xander said good bye their friend, at least temporarily. Anisa's strange condition necessitates prompt attention, and Umeko and Xander have decided to take advantage of the merchant's offer, so they will  arranged to depart with the Khattan as his caravan travels north. Lilac, as it happens, has chosen to remain behind.

Not long after Anisa's plans circulated through the town, a letter written in Lilac – or Lisandra as she is now insisting – appeared in her guest bedroom, asking if the Lapi would come see her before she departs, "if she wasn't too busy." The letter is even signed, 'Lisandra Dragomir.' Various locations where Lisandra helps and learns are listed, including the main hall where she hears her friend hard at training. "HA!" The rustle of a dummy being struck catches in the doe's ears.

A fresh change of clothes and a long, relaxing bath have tempered the doe's morning, and despite the melancholy of leaving her friends behind – not to mention the urgency of her new 'condition' – she is in good spirits as she pads into the hall. "Lila- er, Lisandra? Getting some practice in?"

The young human woman, even more human looking now that most of her supernatural features have left her, completes her thrust before lowering her halberd and turning to the doe. Letting the haft rest on the floor with a echoing clunk, Lisandra wipes her forehead with the back of her hand as she smiles at her friend's arrival. "Anisa!" Her voice sounds hoarse, wheezy. Given the ex-bardess's own condition, as well as her unfamiliarity at arms, her exhaustion is easily explained. "I mean, Miss Snowshoe! I'd hoped you'd stop by before you left, but I didn't want to trouble you."

"Miss Snowshoe? That's what they call my mom," Anisa laughs, walking over to the human, "er, well, Misses Snowshoe, I guess. Why so formal all of a sudden?" She cocks an ear to the side. "And it's never a trouble. We're in no hurry – I think we all earned the right to take our time on things. So… how are you doing? Did you need to ask me something before I go?"

"Oh, Um … ," Lisandra's cheeks redden when Anisa corrects her form of address, and while the human glances around, she seems to notice she's carrying a weapon. Carefully, she leans the black-bladed halberd against a wall, apparently feeling talking while holding a polearm is inappropriate. "Well." Lisandra bites her lip, her gaze returning to Anisa's face. "I just thought … In hindsight, I mean, that I have been … Mortifyingly lacking. In manners, that is. Because of my curse. And um, well, all that aside … I wanted to thank you." By this point, she's even redder.

"Thank me? For what?" The doe's ears fall sideways is curiosity. "Are humans supposed to get that red?"

The human's eyes widen; apparently she hadn't realized she was blushing. "Oh! Well, I mean, we do – I'm not as pale as I was – but it usually means we're … We're embarrassed." Taking a deep breath, Lisandra bows her head, then takes a step towards her friend and spreads her hands. "And, what I mean is … You were really nice to me. Even after everything that happened, and how strange I could be, through my curse, no matter what I looked like, you were always nice to me. And, I wanted to say: thank you."

Anisa smiles at the woman, and gives a shrug. "Well, why wouldn't I be? I mean, it's not like you were a jerk or anything. And hey, I grew up in the bizarre, I've seen much stranger things than you in my time." Clasping one of woman's hands with one paw, she pats it with the other. "You don't give yourself enough credit."

"Klaudia keeps telling me that; so does Lady Umeko. And Xander," the human says with a hint of a sigh, head shaking. "Some day, I may even believe it." She squeezes Anisa's hand back, smiling a little. "And to answer your question, I'm well. My belly is starting to show, and I'm sick now and then, but I think that's normal. Mostly, my side hurts from where I jabbed myself with the halberd." Head tilting, Lisandra then asks, "But, how are you? I've been worried about your … your condition! You're going to Rephidim? The Curators?"

"I know Lapis have a reputation that precedes them, but unfortunately I can't help you in that area," Anisa says with an amused shrug. "Its… weird… but it doesn't hurt or anything – its hard to explain." The doe reaches down to her pantleg and lifts it up, rotating her leg around to expose the light emerald color of her new calf. She raps on it with her knuckles, a soft "tink" noise emitting every time they make contact. "I'm hoping the Curators can tell me about it, and if there's a way to get rid of it. Dagh… the last thing I need is for those jokers at the Temple to find out about it, so looks like its long pants for me this summer."

Lisandra's lips curl into a frown as she leans down to examine the strange lump of crystal. "You know … ," she says, words slow and thoughtful, " … I think Lord Vandringer is made of the same material!"

Letting her pantleg fall back to its normal position, Anisa arches a brow at the human, swiveling her ears forward. "What makes you say that? Although… I wouldn't be that surprised, considering how much he's messed with the stones and the orbs… "

"I bit him," Lisandra answers, straitening. She reddens again at the admittance, even looking a little queasy at the idea. "But, yes, well, … I did. If he had been normal, I should have had his hand. But, I didn't. I couldn't bite through it, and it felt … smooth?"

Anisa grimaces. "Well… it makes sense. We know he has several of the orbs, and he knows a heck of a lot more about using them than I do. I suppose if he's 'interfaced' with them, they'd do to him what they did to me. Although, Dagh only knows why he'd want to be like that."

"Well, I know it makes him physically tougher, at least. He may even be stronger or faster, maybe inside him lurks the potential to be something monstrous – like Kantemir," Lisandra suggests. Shaking her head bemusedly, she adds, "I just don't know. While I said I was a bard, the truth is I was never much of one, and I'm even less of a scholar. I'm glad you're going to get help though, and well, if it doesn't work out, the crystal is at least very pretty?" The other woman smiles hopefully.

"Well, pretty like a Candlemass ornament maybe," Anisa chuckles, "but all things being equal, I'd rather just have my fur back. I guess it's a good thing it happened there and not somewhere else though – easier to hide." The doe sighs. "As for Hagen… he's already a monster, in his own way. He scares me more than Kantemir ever did – at least Kantemir's intentions were straightforward."

"He scares me, too. Even if I feel I've been rude to him," Lisandra admits, nodding in agreement. "When I attacked him, I knew he was fearsome, but not how fearsome. I at least thought he was just a Cervani! Now, I think we'd all best be careful around him. I don't think his casual manner is bravado and confidence of position. I think he's much greater; like a gambler with a sleeve full of aces."

"I've had that impression of him for years. He always seems to be one step ahead – except of course, when he's not." Anisa gives a small laugh. "I mean, we did get two of the orbs, after all."

The human woman nods a little, smiling again. "We did, didn't we? You have Void with you then, I take it?" The ex-bardess's eyes flicker, perhaps wondering if the Lapi has the artifact on her person.

"Gibson has it," replies Anisa, "in a safe spot. Sorry I can't say more, but he's being kinda paranoid about it, at least until we get it back to the Curators. Not that I blame him."

Lisandra nods quickly to that, looking not the least bit offended. "Oh, well, good. I shouldn't know where it is anyway, Curator policy and all. But I would like to know where you'll be, in case you need me! Um, not that I'm very useful right now, but … ," the human gestures to the halberd leaning against the wall, " … I am training. Klaudia agreed to teach me to be a hunter, like she is, and Lady Umeko is helping too. And, well, I want you to know I'll always try and come if you need me."

Anisa grins, "I appreciate it, and I hope you know I'd do the same." The rabbit woman shifts to pit her weight to her other hip, and crosses her arms. "We're going back to Rephidim, as fast as we can, anyway. I think Carrow and his people are going to Justininople first, and from there we'll either get a ride back home, or head on to Blitzheim and get one there. It'd be nice to ride that train thing again without having to worry about Vandringar's nonsense."

"Just be careful," Lisandra advises. "The first thing Klaudia taught me about being a hunter is to never assume you are safe when you're dealing with a monster you don't understand. He knew where we were before, and he'll probably know now. If you do go north to Blitzheim, you might see me there in a few months, if you stay that long. I need to locate our new Lord Rook, but I'm not yet ready to travel – and hopefully I won't be too round to travel then, either." She smiles a little more, patting her belly, and adds, "And thank you. Gear bless you for being such a good friend."

"Sweetie, I'm a Lapi," the doe says with an almost weary smile, "we never feel safe. I have no doubt that he knows where I am most of the time, I've just learned to live with it. I don't think we'll linger in Blitzheim too much, we want to get back home as soon as we can, but I'll bet you'll do just fine." She smiles. "Friends are friends, y'know? They should all be good. And thank you too."

"Um, I'm sorry – I didn't mean to lecture you, of all things. I've just been trying to take everything Klaudia teaches me to heart," the human offers. She then holds her hand out, offering a hug. "I'm going to miss you," she says with a little frown, taking a moment to studying Anisa's face, trying to remember it. "Do you think some day I'll get to eat your mother's cooking again, and sing in your tavern, and tell stories now that I'm not cursed?"

Anisa laughs, leaning in and clasping the taller human in a firm – but not painful – bearhug, almost lifting her off the ground. "You're welcome anytime, if anything, you're less imposing now – the regulars won't be as on edge as they were last time you came!"

Lisandra laughs, light and musical, when hugged. She gives the Lapi a fierce hug right back, the makeshift leather practice gear she's wearing crunching and creaking from the pressure. "I've been told I can do something about my wings, too," she gestures back at them with twiddled fingers, " … but I haven't quite figured that out yet. So, hopefully by the time I do, I'll look completely human again!"

"I'm sure they're this way," comes a second Lapi voice from a side hall, followed by Xander's face poking through the doorway. "Hellooo?" he calls.

"Well, like I said, it's the Bizarre, I doubt anyone'll look twice either way," the doe releases the human from her embrace, and swivels an ear in the direction of the newcomers. "Hello yourself!"

"Really, Xander. You should not just stick your head through doorways. What if she were naked?" Umeko asks from somewhere behind Xander.

"They were just hugging," Xander says, and comes the rest of the way into the hall. "Besides, I can't picture Lil- Lisandra naked without thinking about her all covered in blood," the buck notes with a shudder.

Lisandra steps back, still smiling and looking overall content. It takes her a moment longer to register people are approaching, not having Lapi hearing, but she calls out, "In the training hall!" Aside to Anisa, she admits, "I'm still not used to how diverse the world is," in a low voice, "that elsewhere they wouldn't think twice about me."

"All of us have been covered in blood at one time or another," Umeko notes as she follows Xander into the hall. She looks between Lisandra, Anisa, and the punching dummy. "Are you having Anisa give you fighting lessons?" she asks with a mock frown, "You will learn terrible habits from her."

"Hey, Anisa! Are you really catching a ride with the kitty?" Xander asks as he jogs up.

"Oh! No," Lisandra replies, quick to gesture at the black-bladed halberd resting against the nearby wall. "I was just doing thrusting drills. Klaudia has agreed to teach me how to be a hunter, as she is." A gleam of sweat reflects off the ex-bardess's brow, suggesting she had been at her practice for some time.

"Well, if you ever give up the monster hunter gig, Rephidim would be a good place to retire!" She turns to Umeko with a smirk, "Bad habits, eh? But no, no training – just goodbyes. And yeah, me and Gib are heading off with Carrow for a port back home. I need to get some words in with the Curators."

"Is there room for two more?" Xander asks. "I promise not to sit on your fancy dress," he says, and sidles a bit to the side to look at Lisandra's wings from the back.

Umeko nods at that. "I do as well. I will be heading that way too, it looks like. From there I should return to Viper's Hold for a time. I need to establish my home before the Empire begins to wonder, as well as set up a safe house for the Curators to use," she says.

"I'll be monster hunter mommy for a long time before I can retire," the human woman murmurs, her voice tinged in trepidation, but also a hint of joy. She blinks as Xander starts rounding her, watching him curiously out of the corner of her eye.

The Fire Mage seems to be staring at the human's shoulders, where the wings sprout.

"The more, the merrier, I suppose!" Anisa says, smoothing back her ears with a smile. "A lot of the people that were trapped in the castle are coming with us too, to get back wherever they were from. Some of them were here a long time."

"I still do not entirely approve of your weapon choice, Lisandra," Umeko notes and motions towards the human's halberd with her right hand. "It is … crude. But, if you are fighting creatures the size of a Dromodon, I suppose such a weapon is necessary."

"Errrm?" Lisandra's brow arches up at the inspection. "Is something wrong, Xander?" Blinking, Lisandra's gaze flicks to her other friends and she says, "The town has been in seclusion for generations. I've spoken with the mayor, and he said many of the young folks want to leave and see the world. We're going to have some labor problems here, so I plan to help out by hunting, and whatever else I can do. You could say it's my duty; I'm the last of the old Midnight Murder."

Gaze flicking again, Lisandra smiles sheepishly at Umeko's displeasure. "Aww, Ummy! That's an old weapon, unless you mean spears in general. I do have a sword now, as a backup, and Klaudia said I can have her crossbow too. But there just isn't any way to make new weapons here," she explains, apologetically.

"Good for killer hogs, too," Xander mutters, and actually gently pokes Lisandra right between her shoulders with a finger.

"Just make sure you get some hand to hand training in," Anisa says, making a fist. "You won't always have a weapon on you."

Umeko crosses her arms defiantly. "I will not have my first student using any sword made here. The craftsmanship is lacking," she insists and even tilts her nose slightly up, "I will have a proper sword forged for you when I can return to Jadai." There's an unfortunate break in that superior air, though, the corners of her lips curve upward slightly in a smile.

By the way Lisandra's expression melts into a embarrassed crease at Umeko's remark, frown deepening, one can almost picture her old ears wilting. The grin at the end breaks the spell; the ex-bardess, now huntress, suddenly grins, too. "Oh Ummy, that'd be nice! There's no forge short of Justininople, but I want to have my spear forged in Chronotopia. Klaudia and I have the basics of a new spear in the works, and having a quality sword would help my confidence! And, I plan to train with my fists when I … I can stomach that." The woman then jerks when poked, her eyes flashing, a snarl forming for the briefest second before it's gone. It's a strange change of expression, almost feral. "What are you doing Xander?"

"Eeep!" Xander says, pulling his arms back to his chest. "Oh… I was just… uh… heyyy… want to try something magical, Lisandra?" he finally gets out.

Anisa's fur bristles out slightly. "Xander, when you do things magical, things blow up… "

"Not my magic this time," the buck claims. "Her's!"

"The same offer stands for you, too, Anisa, if you wish," Umeko notes to the Lapi. "I know you do not prefer them, but I can try to have a weapon forged for you in Jadai. Such are rarely ever given to foreigner, but I hardly consider you a foreigner anymore. Family, perhaps."

Lisandra's eyes widen when Xander jumps away, apparently as surprised as he is. She blinks a moment, touching her face, then shakes her head. "Sorry," she offers, pleadingly. "I didn't mean to snap at you, Xander! I just can't … I don't handle being … touched, well. After, well … " The woman shakes her head again. "Anyway, I'd love to try whatever magic you're thinking of."

Anisa eyes Xander suspiciously before turning to Umeko. "Well, I don't have much experience with swords, but I guess I could always learn!" She smiles to the Kiriga. "And family… sounds about right."

Xander cheers back up immediately. "Great!" he says, coming back around to Lisandra's front. "First, can you spread your wings all the way out, and take a few deep breaths until you feel really calm?"

"It need not be a sword. There are many types of weapons that can be made," Umeko notes. "I suppose it sounds … egotistical, but the master craftsmen of Jadai treat forging a weapon as if it were the life's work of an artist. No two are ever alike. I will have to consider what would best represent you."

"Can I feel somewhat calm and a little nauseous? Because, that's about the best I can do right now." The human takes a deep breath and as she does so, her wings spread to their full length. Large and feathered, they'd belong on any Korv, perhaps even a Vartan. Attached to Lisandra, they make her somewhat resemble the angelic statuary that dots Sylvania's graveyards – if angels wore sparring gear, anyway.

"Okay, now close your eyes and imagine that you're standing behind yourself, so that you can see your back and your wings," Xander says, keeping his voice very smooth.

Lisandra's eyes flick to Umeko's face, her brow shooting up. She looks like she wants to ask something, most likely, "what weapon fits me, Ummy?" but her breathing exercise forbids it. Her eyes close as directed, wings billowing now and then as one of the cold drafts of the castle catch them.

"Oh, well," Anisa cocks her ears forward in thought. "I'm trained in using bows, but I don't think I could ever replace the one I have now, it means too much to me, and I doubt your craftsmen have much use for skedat whips." The doe shrugs. "Other than that, all I've ever trained with are staves."

"Once you can picture your back, try to imagine a tattoo on it," Xander goes on. "A tattoo of wings, that covers most of your back, under your real wings. Nod when you have that picture in your head."

"How is your leg doing, Anisa? Does it hurt? For that matter, do you feel anything at all in it?" Umeko asks.

Lisandra's head bobs after a moment, the woman folding her hands in front of herself. It's not hard to see the result oh hard practice on her hands. There's a few cuts and nicks already, and they look a little red.

Anisa shakes her head. "It doesn't hurt, it just feels weird. I can… kinda feel it when something touches it, but not in the same way I used to. Its hard to explain." The doe reaches down and taps on her calf, hidden by her pants. The now familiar 'tink' noise comes in reply. "I'm hoping the Curators can shed some light on it. If it hadn't have happened, I'd probably be in much less of a hurry to get home."

"Are you going to see if there is a way to revert it back to normal?" Umeko asks after her head tilted at the 'tink'. "I would find such lack of sensation disconcerting."

"Alright, now start drawing your wings back in slowly," Xander says, "but imagine them shrinking as you do it, so that when they're fully pulled in, they fit right on top of the tattoo – and melt into it."

"That's the plan, but to be honest, I'm not holding out much hope." Anisa sighs. "These orbs are pretty powerful stuff, and I don't think anyone really understands them all that well, except maybe Hagen."

"Even if reverted, some effects seem to linger," Umeko agrees reluctantly. "I still have days where I do not feel quite myself anymore. Not since the Orb of Being tried to shape me like so much clay."

As Lisandra seems to follow Xander's directions, a curious thing happens to her wings. They arch, which isn't unusual at all, then begin to steadily gain an almost smokey fade about their perimeter. The effect is reminiscent of the void effect, only less dense, and ever so steadily they begin to deteriorate. Feathers break off and crumble first to black chalk, and then to haze, then are gone completely, while flesh retracts against the huntress's skin. The whole process makes her brow shoot up and hands clench, but she doesn't open her eyes.

Anisa points to her ears, giving them a wiggle as she grins. "Tell me about it." The doe opens her mouth to say more, but is quickly cut off by Lisandra's transformation, her head quickly swiveling to watch in amazement.

"Hmmm, did that… hurt?" Xander asks Lisandra. "You can open your eyes now. You need to practice manifesting and hiding your wings until it becomes really easy. I don't think you want to look like a hybrid while searching Chronotopia for the heir, after all… "

The human risks a peek, glancing over her shoulders. Now, her wings look rather ruined: half-formed with feathers missing and white human skin visible below them, which naturally causes the woman's brow to shoot up in alarm again! "Oh that's not good!" She wiggles her wings, head shaking. "It felt a lot like when I turned into my beast," she admits, "or rather back from my beast, except if I only did one part of me. It also felt tingly." Taking another look back, she laments, "Aww, they look all ugly now!"

"They do not look good, no. You look like a mutilated monster," Umeko says rather honestly.

"Keep trying to pull them in tighter," Xander says. "You almost have it."

Anisa hmms, "Yeah, that… that's… odd looking. Better try to go the whole way."

"Aww, I hope no one walks in right now. I don't need to go scaring more villagers," Lisandra worries. Her brow then narrows in concentration; again, her wings stir. In fits and jerks, they steadily suffer a mix of disintegration and retraction, until at last they're gone, leaving the human stumbling forward from the sudden weight shift. All at once, she exclaims, "I'm human again!"

"That will definitely help you with wardrobe issues," Xander agrees with a grin. "Now… spread them back out!"

"Unfortunately, yes," Umeko agrees.

Anisa laughs as Lilac completes her process. "There you go! Looks like you don't have to worry about staring now."

"Now I feel all off balance," Lilac observes, taking a step forward and looking back over her shoulder at herself. "Front heavy." She pauses to give Umeko a hurt look, then explains says, "This is how I originally looked – this is the Lisandra that left Pyrewood." She beams a smile at Anisa's good cheer, then nods to Xander. "Alright, just give me a moment more to feel normal again. And, don't mind me!"

"Most human women are front heavy," Xander says reassuringly. "I think that's why they invented the bustle… "

Xander asides to Anisa, "What about a trident? I think that might suit you. You could poke guys in the butt with it when they get out of hand."

Anisa continues to look Lilac over a few seconds before turning to Xander. "A trident? Nah, that's not my style. They aren't balanced well enough." The doe shrugs. "I suppose I should learn to use a sword one of these days, just never got around to it."

"I may ask to see the Orb of Being while speaking with the Curators," Umeko remarks absently. "Though I am not sure what more I would learn from it. Perhaps we should see if the book mentions any other orbs that may be target of the Cinders."

"Other orbs?" Xander asks, and then blinks. "Err, why would you want to see the Orb of Being again, Umeko?" he asks.

"Because it seems to know something of the history of my kind," Umeko answers.

"You'll have to speak with your contact about that," Anisa says to Umeko, "and it'll take time for them to get it to you. I'm not certain where they keep these things once they get em, even Gibson doesn't know. As for the book, we'd have to get Royce to meet up with us at one of our stops – he's the only one who knows who to read the Dagh cursed thing."

"Maybe when we're all together again, we can all practice the sword. I remember stories of people sworn to the sword, with band names like the 'Seven Swords,'" rambles Lisandra, who still seems absorbed in finally looking as she had originally. After one last look over both shoulders, she turns her back to Xander. "Do I have a tattoo now?" To Anisa and Umeko, she also offers, "Dragonfly said there's an Orb of Probability, and I remember there's an Orb of Energy as well. Oh! And Matter."

"Not under the wings," Xander says. "That was more of a suggestion for visualization purposes – I didn't expect one to actually show up. Demonic flesh doesn't have to have a visible marker… "

"After seeing Being and Void… those others sound a lot worse," Xander admits.

"Mm, it may be worthwhile to learn where the Cinders have kept their prizes and take the battle to them, as it were," Umeko suggests.

"That's easier said than done," Anisa says. "They're just as good at hiding their stuff as the Curators are, plus they have entire armies at their beck and call. But still… not a bad idea."

True enough, Lisandra doesn't have a tattoo. "Oh. Well. Maybe I'll get one, then. I need some reason to be walking around with my upper back exposed – I don't want to seem like that type of young woman," the huntress remarks, head shaking. "Especially when meeting the new Lord Rook. 'Exotic huntress' is a lot better than 'desperate unmarried pregnant girl.'"

"Hey, Anisa, can I try something with your leg?" Xander asks the doe.

Anisa sets her ears to the side as she looks to Xander. "What would that be?"

"Of course, I do have to wonder if the Cinders and Curators are the same group and they just employ people to compete for their amusement," Umeko muses.

"That would just be… demented, Umeko," Xander says, and then gets down on his hands and knees. "I just want to make sure it won't make any noticeable sound in the wind, Anisa."

At this, Anisa looks positively creeped out, and takes a step back from the buck. "Come again?"

"Just let me blow on it so we can find out," the buck says. "I knew this Air Mage on Caroban who had a collection of stationary wind-chime crystals… "

"What a disturbing idea, Ummy," the huntress admits, turning around to face her friend. "But, it could be true. Now," she taps her nose, "if you could find where one of the orbs is hidden, I could try and confirm that. I don't think I'm quite as good as I was, but I still feel confident about sneaking. Yesterday, I snuck up on a marsh asp."

"And that has just what to do with Ancient Ones' crystals?" Anisa crosses her arms. "Are you just trying to mess with me again, Xander?"

Glancing down, Lisandra nods a little. "That is a little weird, Xander," she admits.

"We don't know what this crystal could react to, Anisa," Xander notes, looking from the floor at the doe. "Music, sunlight, water… it could react weird to any of those. You'll need to find out."

"It is rather strange, Xander. For a moment I thought you were implying that Anisa was flatulent," Umeko notes.

"What? No, the other kind of wind!" Xander says.

Anisa rolls her eyes skyward, giving a sigh as she lifts up her pantleg. "Fine, but make it quick. Its bad enough I have a crystal for a leg, but having some guy blowing on it just goes a bit over my weird-out meter."

To Umeko, Lisandra explains, "I still have the marsh asp, you know. I've been hunting for all kinds of things, for my training and the village. If you like, I can show you how to milk venom for use as poison, since you produce poison yourself."

Xander takes a few deep breaths, and blows as hard as he can on the shiny patch of crystal flesh.

Umeko gives Lilac a strange look. "You desire to milk me?" she asks. "That is … I am not quite sure how to respond to such a request."

Lisandra leans back, blinking. "Not milk you," she insists, hands resting over her heart. "Show you how to milk yourself, in case you need to. Since I was hunting anyway, and Klaudia has been teaching me how to distill and extract poisons for use in monster hunting, she also showed me how to extract it from marsh asps – which are a lot like Naga."

"I will consider it," Umeko reluctantly admits. "It still sounds odd."

After running out of breath, Xander gives up. "I guess it isn't a wind chime," he says, sitting up. "But you'll want to have it tested with tuning forks, Anisa. Those aren't the kind you skewer food with, by the way. They make single tones."

"It's very normal, I'm sure," the human tries to assure her friend. "I bet poisonous Naga sell their poison all the time! And, how else would they make anti-venom? Not that I can make anti-venom, but I've been told that's part of the process." The woman's eyes widen a little as she suddenly remembers something. "Oh! Do you have my collar key, Ummy?"

"Yes," Umeko says and has to search in an inside pocket of her kimono. She finds it and pulls it out, then offers it to Lilac.

"I know what a tuning fork is, dingus," Anisa says annoyedly, letting her pantleg fall back to the ground, "and I'm sure the Curators'll run a ton of tests on it to see what its all about. That's why I'm going back home as soon as we can."

"Too bad Envoy is dead," Xander comments. "I think she has a skeleton made of blue-green crystal, so might have known more."

Lisandra accepts the key, looking down at it as if just handed an artifact; such is how attached she's been to wearing the metal ring. "As much as I hate to admit it," she begins after taking a deep breath, "it's inappropriate for me to wear a Jadian slave collar. But, that doesn't mean I can't still wear it." Looking up, the human asks, "Ummy. Lady Umeko Tsuguri, Governess-Militant, may I have my collar reforged?"

Umeko's brow ridge goes up a bit. "As what?" she asks. "It is iron so can be reshaped, but you must designate the new shape."

"I vote for snaky armbands," Xander offers.

"I have no idea who that is," Anisa says, turning to the other women to listen in on their conversation. "Also, you look silly sitting on the floor like that – you'll catch a cold."

"I'm a Fire Mage," Xander says, crossing his arms over his chest. "We don't get colds."

"Wellll, I as thinking of a necklace, like a chain. Something that won't be torn from my neck in a struggle. I could even make another sort of collar, something more fashionable and less 'I'm a slave-ish,'" the huntress offers. To Xander, the woman explains, "Klaudia suggests against most jewelry. We hunters have to be mindful of where we can be grasped or what can catch on what. The collar was unbreakable and protected my neck."

"Make it spiked then, like… fangs," Xander offers, holding his hands to his muzzle with his index fingers pointed down like fangs.

"You do remember that it was intended as a joke. A rather poor one at that," Umeko notes, bemused. "But I can see what can be done, if you like."

Lisandra smiles a little, nodding her head. "I know it was a joke," she admits, "but I kept it to remind me of you, and my own humanity. Not that it always worked, but having it there always made me feel better, even when people looked at me funny, and this one Naga asked where my owner was. That was awkward." She glances at Xander, blinking. "Spiked?" Still at a loss for the idea of wearing spikes, the human asides to Umeko, "Would you like to reforge it? I was going to try and do so in Chronotopia."

"The choice on who does it is yours," Umeko says, "Think of it as … controlling your own destiny."

"For being grabbed," Xander explains. "Spikes would prevent that… "

"Do you have firsthand experience in spikes injuring you because you grabbed someone?" Umeko asks Xander.

"I'll have to think on it," Lisandra says after a moment. "I could always have part of it forged into my spear some day, too, then it'd be like having part of you there, Ummy. I'll just leave it on for now, I think – I won't need to remove it until I enter Chronotopia. They don't allow slaves."

"Why would you think that, Umeko?" Xander asks, looking innocent.

"Because I know you," Umeko answers. "Your hands wander."

"Anisa, defend me here," Xander pleads. "My hands don't wander, do they?"

"They don't when they know what's good for them," Anisa says with a smirk.

"I do suppose I will have to find a new person to wear a collar," Umeko muses … then eyes Xander.

"Especially after you nearly decked me that time when I brought the Wheelierama tickets," Xander mutters, then blinks and gets a worried look when he notices Umeko's attention.

"I am staying out of this," Lisandra insists regarding the matter of Xander's wandering hands. She then promptly frowns when Xander gets eyed for collaring.

"Or maybe a muzzle would be more appropriate," Umeko considers.

Xander wisely remains quiet.

Umeko then shakes her head. "When do you intend to leave, Anisa? When does Carrow's caravan depart?" she asks.

"Tomorrow morning, bright and early," the doe says with a small smile. "I've just got to finish up packing tonight, and then I plan on trying to pass out as soon as I can. If you guys want to come with us, you'll have to get ready soon."

"I traveled light, so that should not be too much of a concern. I will have some problems finding a trunk large enough to stuff Xander in, but I am sure one can be found somewhere in this castle," Umeko says and nods.

"I can help you pack if you like," Lisandra offers Umeko and Xander. "I'm not sure if I said so, but I intend to remain here and help Rookery. Plus, Klaudia is training me, and so are the villagers! It's so nice, walking around a village and not having to hide or feel guilty." The woman smiles at the idea. "And, I think I need some rest from the road, being pregnant and all."

"Vandringar is probably already back at his estate, sipping expensive wine and eating tidbits off a crystal tray," Xander notes, until he finally registers what Umeko just said. "You have such a good delivery on your humor, Umeko – I can never tell whether you are being serious or not!"

"I also expect you," Umeko says and points at Lilac, "To keep in contact with all of us. If you do not, I will come hunt you down." The next statement comes with a smile, though, as she says, "That would be appreciated, Lilac. And yes, I am sure you will find resting here to be far more relaxing than the last year of your life. You deserve it."

"Aww," is all Lisandra can seem to say in the face of such kind words and sentimentality. She reaches up and rubs at her eye a moment, pulling back a damp hand. "You've gone and made me cry, Ummy. You really are leaving, aren't you? I mean I knew you were but … We've been together so long, and it all just … just hit me." She suddenly sniffles, biting her lip and shaking her head.

"I cannot keep the Empire waiting forever. I must return and report at least something to them. I can claim defeat of one of their enemies, at least. I will just have to omit certain details," Umeko says and rolls her left hand just so. "Plus … I must admit I would like to visit Jadai again. There are aspects I miss. Like my own mother; I have not seen her since the night we fled."

"She isn't scary like your dad, is she?" Xander asks meekly.

"I'm sure my mom would like to see me as well, I wouldn't mind some of her soup right about now," Anisa says.

"She is like me, only older and … redder," Umeko answers.

The human nods slowly, blinking rapidly a few times before needing to wipe her eye again. "I'm happy you're going home a hero," she says in a quiet, somewhat strained voice. "You've been the best friend I could ever ask for. With you, I was able to do so much, and it's all thanks to you. Maybe some day, I'll come visit your new and old homes. I … I should brings flowers too. For the memorial."

There's a pause, then Lisandra's lips curl into a frown again. "Home," she breathes, very quietly. "I haven't been home. My parents probably think I'm dead."

"I do not feel a hero, truth be told," Umeko admits as she does something decidedly un-Kiriga-like; she hugs Lilac. "It is hard to feel a hero when so many people still died. Many of them being pointless."

"I haven't visited mine in ages," Xander admits.

"We will fix that," Umeko remarks to Xander.

"After all, I need to arrange trade with Viper's Hold, and I do believe your family is in the trading business, is it not?" she adds.

"Well, not international trading," Xander notes. "Just… small stuff."

Lisandra hugs back, tightly. "We did the best we could," she tells the Kiriga, "the best we could with what we had. When I've trained, when I can fight again, if it ever comes to another war, I want to be there to help shoulder your burden. And you are a hero; both me and the Emperor think so. You can't argue with us!"

"Perhaps that will change," Umeko says in a tone that suggests Xander can't get out of visiting home.

"I can argue with you," Umeko points out, "Not so much with the Emperor."

Lisandra leans back, eyes a little puffy now. She rubs at her nose. "Are you saying I'm not intimidating, Ummy? I'm a scary … ex-monster." She wiggles her fingers at her friend, claw-like.

"You sorta look like you need a stuffed animal to sleep, Lisandra," Xander admits with a smirk. "Not that that's bad. I know Anisa sleeps with like a dozen of them back home… "

"Only six," Anisa says, "and not so much anymore." The doe looks nonchalant about the subject, although her face betrays a grin.

"You are as intimidating as a newborn hooka, Lisandra," Umeko notes with a bemused, toothy, grin.

"Aww," Lisandra whines, reddening. "I even have a weapon, too! I'm going to have to ask Klaudia about this." She sniffles again, but grins a little.

"I don't sleep with any stuffed animals," Xander says proudly. Of course, that's because he usually is the stuffed animal.

"No, you seem to prefer things with claws and sharp teeth," Umeko remarks.

"I used to have a … a raggedy doll," Lisandra admits. "I, I kind of miss her. Maybe I should g-go home. Just a little while." Another sniffle, and she pulls herself up to stand a little straighter. "I'll go home when I'm a h-hunter."

"You're still going to practice your music and singing though, right?" Xander asks.

Glancing towards Xander, Lisandra nods a little. "I still have the book of hymns, from the battle. I want to learn Chronotopian, so I can sing them right. Maybe I'll s-sing when I travel. As a hunter," she answers. She still looks a little red in the face.

A tall black Lapi trots down one of the flights of staircases, a duffel thrown over one broad shoulder. He smiles when he sees the others, and diverts away from the hall entrance to join them. "All packed up, sis?" says Gibson. "I was about to head down and toss this into one of Carrow's wagons. The Dromodon that arrived are watered and fed by now, I think."

"Mostly," Anisa says to her brother. "I just need to pack a few more things away, and I'll be all set. I need to figure out how to get that dress in there without wrinkling it mu- er… yeah." The doe's ears turn crimson.

"Xander and I will likely be going with you. I have business to attend to, as does he. That is, if you do not mind the extra company," Umeko says to Gibson.

Glancing at Anisa, Lisandra smiles a little and offers, "You're free to take any clothes you like, I already made sure that was okay." To Gibson, the human woman looks up, doing her best to smiles and look fine despite being a bit red in the cheeks and glassy of eye. "Hi, Gibson! I guess you'll be leaving too; I'm going to miss you."

Anisa says nothing in reply, simply giving the human woman an embarrassed nod of thanks.

"I'm remaining behind," Lisandra adds to Umeko's statement. "Rookery needs me, and I need the time to rest and become useful again."

"None of the clothing really fits me. I lack a chest of fat," Umeko remarks.

Xander snickers at the 'chest of fat' comment, but tries to hide it.

At 'chest of fat,' the pregnant woman gives Umeko a look, undoubtedly because she's been growing steadily in the chest department.

Anisa gives Umeko a grimace as well, her ears getting redder, if at all possible.

"What? Is it not made of fat?" Umeko asks as she pokes Lisandra lightly in the chest to test it.

Gibson smiles back at Lisandra, reaching his free hand out to lay it on her shoulder. "I'll miss all of you too. I have to thank all of you, we'd never have been able to do this without help from each of you. I'm glad I got to meet all of you, it's been a pleasure and an honor. Who knows? We may all see each other again soon."

"Ow," Lisandra whines, despite the gentleness. Definitely pregnant. She scootches closer to Gibson, out of the range of Umeko's poking.

Umeko eyes Anisa next. "Mm, no. You punch," she decides.

"Gib's always been better with words than I am," Anisa says, smiling to the others – her ears slowly turning back to normal. "But he echoed my thoughts entirely."

Anisa eyes Umeko back. "You better believe I do." She crosses her arms defensively.

Gibson turns back to his sister, grinning and tapping her lightly in the upper shoulder with his knuckles. "And what've you got to be all red-eared about? I'd've asked Lil-… Lisandra to let you bring back a dress myself, just to see Mom's face light up when she got sight of you in something that didn't have rips or grass stains on it."

The ears turn red once more. "Yeah, well… just don't get used to it. I'm just gonna keep it for special occasions and stuff – Mom's not gonna see me in it til at least the next holiday. Maybe."

"I feel the same way," Lisandra agrees, rubbing at her chest. She smiles at everyone, but when Gibson speaks up she notes, "I'm not really in charge of the castle, mind you. I had to ask around. I don't think anyone is in charge anymore, but well, Klaudia and I seem the closest, being on the tapestry and all."

"Wait, you mean Anisa would actually wear that dress in front of her family?" Xander asks Gibson, looking shocked.

The black buck laughs, "Mom, maybe! She'd be thrilled. Our brothers, maybe not… they'd all give her a hard time except maybe Quinn, since he doesn't have a sense of humor anyway."

"I miss your family," Lisandra admits to Gibson and Anisa. "In a way, I almost wish I could go home to yours."

"Like I said, your free to visit anytime you like," Anisa says, smoothing back her red-tinged ears with a smile. "But you may also wanna look your own family up. I'm sure they miss you."

"Her family is kinder than mine," Umeko admits. "Much kinder."

"Lapis are naturally family oriented," Xander claims, "even when we can't stand them!"

"Do you hate your family, Xander?" Umeko asks.

"My family, um … They might think I'm dead," Lisandra admits, frowning a little. "Or, hope so. I don't know, the whole village didn't really like me. But, I guess now that I'm a huntress, I'm a little more respectable. That's if the sheriff lets me in at all."

"I just don't get along with my brothers," Xander notes.

Anisa looks a bit awkward at bringing the subject up, then shrugs. "Well, you have a family here now, and the invitation always stands."

"Oh wow, I just realized!" Xander says, hopping up and looking to Umeko and the Lapis. "This is our last chance for hot baths before slogging through the swamp for a few days!"

"I just got finished with one," Anisa says, "but I'm sure you boys could take one together." The doe grins.

Lisandra looks a little lost in thought, then blinks and smiles at Anisa. "Oh, don't worry," she insists, kindly. "My village and I having problems is old news. Some day I'll return, and when I do, I'll make the sheriff eat his hat."

Gibson hefts the duffel on his shoulder. "Well, you enjoy that, then! I'm going to toss this into the wagon. Let's promise to meet again sometime, okay? I'm sure any and all of you would be welcome at Snowshoe's."

"And forgive me, but if I am to leave with the caravan, I had best pack," Umeko says as she bows to those gathered, "We should not act as if this is the last time we will all be together. It is merely a time where all of us must tend to other matters in our lives. I am certain the fates will bring us all together again. Or if not them, at the very least we will celebrate on the anniversary of our victories, no?" There's a pause and she also adds, "Plus a hot bath would be most welcome before I an condemned to have mud stuck between my toes once more. A good day to you all, and a bright future to come."

"I'll also be sure to write! I'll send my letters northward with the caravans, to the Father to take care of. If anything happens, I'll be sure to mention it. You can assume I'll be here, though, practicing and helping the village. I plan to go north in a few months, if all goes well," Lisandra says. She then glances at Umeko and nods. "I'll come help you pack."

"I need to finish my packing as well," Anisa says with a nod to Umeko, "and I know Gib's not strong enough to get all a his stuff in, so he'll need my help." She grins to the buck, before turning back to Lisandra. "Well, I suppose this is… farewell? But just for now."

Turning back, Lisandra smiles at Anisa. "Just for now," she agrees. "Maybe when we next meet, you can meet my baby. I'm sure he or she will want to meet his godparents." The woman smiles a little more.

"Well, I always stay ready to run, so… I guess I'll go heat up the water!" Xander says, then gives Lisandra a quick peck on the cheek before heading out, calling back, "No charge for showing you the wing trick! And I want to see the kid when it's born, so don't forget to let us all know!"

Leaning in, the Lapi doe gives Lilac one last hug. "You always know how to find us." Smiling at the woman, she does a swivel on her heel, and starts back upstairs to her quarters.

At least this time, Lisandra doesn't flinch when touched. She smiles and waves to Xander, calling after him, "I'll have so many baby stories!" The human hugs Anisa back, smiling and waving to her too. "I do," she calls after her. "Have a good trip!"

---

GMed by Brenna

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