Opportunity comes when it's least expected. After dropping off Kalila with one of Lady Inaya's tiger bodyguards, Miranda Chalk returns to the bunny hutches to discover that one of her aunts, Goodie Chalk, is supervising one of her cousins, Bert, in cleaning out the hutches. "He's being punished for pulling his sister's ears until she cried," Goodie explains to Miranda. "So you can go off and do as you please for the rest of the afternoon."
Expecting another round of work after her recent kitten-sitting duties, Miranda is surprised, but pleasently so, to find she has the rest of the day free and to herself. The gray Lapi smiles and thanks her Aunt readily for the free time, "Ah, thhank yu very much Goodie. I'm thure Bert wont be pulling anyoneth ear-th again thoone." she says, lisping slightly.
Goodie winces a bit, having forgotten about Miranda's broken tooth. "I certainly hope so, otherwise I'll let his sisters pull on his ears," the older woman says.
"Ah, well, thank you again… " Miranda replies, noticing the older doe's wince, but managing to smile all the same as she turns and walks off out of the pasture back towards the Chalk warrens. She plans to change into something lighter than the overalls she wears when working with animals before figuring out what to do with the rest of her day.
Along the way to the main entrance, she runs into Kalvin (easily recognized by his patchwork coat and antlers) taking his flock towards the northern pastures, and struggling to lug a heavy picnic basket as well.
Not one to pass up an opportunity to lend a hand, the Lapi doe pauses in her walk to see if Kalvin needs help. "Hey Kalvin, want thome help carrying thhat?" Miranda asks, gesturing to the basket the boy is having a bit of trouble hauling along.
Kalvin stops and blinks, as if noticing Miranda for the first time. "H'lo M'randa," he finally says. Instead of answering her question though, he asks, "Do you eat cheese?"
Miranda blinks at the sudden, odd question and scratches the back of one of her ears lightly before replying, "Yeth, thometimeth. Why?" she says, ending the answer to Kalvin's question with another question, curious why he would ask.
In reply, the shepherd reaches into the basket to pull out a heavy looking chunk of hard cheese. "Parsley puts it in for my monster, but he's been in the castle. I can't give it to the 'ghrats, cuz it makes 'em fart," he tries to explain.
"Monthter? When did you get a monthter Kalvin?" Miranda asks, wondering if this is a new animal in the buck's care, or something else. Her ears skew, one up and one to the side in thought as she accepts the chunk of cheese.
"He just followed me from the market festival," Kalvin says, looking downward. "He's not very bright, I think. Parsley likes him though, and if she finds out he hasn't come out of the castle, she'll come and snoop. She's very snoopy."
"Ah yeth, thee ith that thometimeth ithn't thee?" Miranda replies to the comment about Parsley, though not unkindly, quite liking the other doe as Parsley was one of the ones who didn't tease. The Lapi soon returns to her line of questioning though asking, "But again, jutht who followed yu Kalvin? I'm afraid I don't know who yu mean."
"Axel, the bird-man monster," Kalvin says, as if surprised that everyone doesn't know already. "He catches on fire a lot. He burns up girls' clothes too."
"Ackthel… tha bird… man, monster." Miranda repeats slowly as though chewing on the sentence, her ears skewing back in the opposite direction as she thinks about it. The gray doe looks a little dubious at the thought of someone catching on fire all of the time and burning girls' clothes, but takes it in good spirit. "Ah, he catches on fire? Are yu thure he ithn't dangerouth to have following yu around?" she asks.
"He doesn't do it with me," Kalvin claims. "Just when he tries to do magic stuff. He was in town looking for carrot cake when he burned up the clothes of Clover's mob, but they all thought it was Crazy Gunther, because he was fighting with them at the time. So I guess it's okay. Unless it really was Gunther."
Miranda blinks and then suddenly starts laughing at the thought of Clovers gaggle of followers suddenly finding themselves with charred ashes instead of clothes in the middle of town. Either way that would have been a sight to see and it would certainly serve some of them right! The Lapi quickly sobers and puts a lid on her snickering, saying, "Tho you're thure he wouldn't catch yu on fire t0o? But I thuppothe if Parthley gives you food to give to him thee mutht think it ith thafe ath well."
"He almost killed Parsley," Kalvin notes. "But she got better. Dont' tell her he's missing though, okay?"
Miranda gapes at this bit of information… "He… almost killed Parthley?" she says, a bit stunned, having to take a moment to remind herself that, in spite of this apparent information Parsley still seems to trust this 'Axel' in Kalvin's company… That is, if Kalvin is telling the truth. But then, he is straightforward and honest, so… "It mutht have been an acthident… right Kalvin?" The gray doe asks.
The antlered boy just shrugs. "I guess. Axel never seems to know what he's doing. He's like a newborn 'ghrat, trying to sort out how to walk with all those legs."
Miranda allows herself to feel a little reassured that whoever the man is isn't incredibly dangerous… at least, no more so than some of the Wingnut Kadie clan… "Well dun worry, I won't tell Parthley that your friend Ackthel ith missing. He thoundth very interethting."
Kalvin scratches at his left cheek, and says, "I suppose he is. If you're going back to the warren, can you take some of this extra food with you?"
The Lapi doe nods, her ears perking up a bit. She says,"Thure I can take thome eckthtra back wif me… " she pauses to think for a moment before continuing, "… and if any errands take me by the cathle, I'll athk around for your friend if you want?" Miranda makes the offer, though honestly she can't think of anything recent that would take her by that place.
"I can… uh… well, sure, if you're out that way anyway," Kalvin says, and starts rummaging through the basket. In the end, he just stuffs some honey-seed cakes into his pockets and a small loaf of bread, and hands the basket over to Miranda. "I don't need the rest. I usually eat with the 'ghrats."
Miranda scratches her chin and takes the now slightly lighter basket in hand. "Alright, well I'll take thith bak for yu then. Are yu thure yu dont need anymore of it than that?" she asks to make sure.
"I'm sure," Kalvin says. "Parsley always wants me to eat more of this made stuff, but I like the grass and leaves and flowers I find in the pasture."
"Ah, ok. I have to admit grathh and flowerth ar taethty on occathion. Jutht be careful not to turn into a Rughrat yourthelf, okay? Yu wouldn't be able to take care of them then," Miranda replies with a chuckle.
Kalvin nods seriously, and says, "I'll be careful about that." He turns to look at one of the Rughrat ewes suspiciously. Then he shakes his crook, and clucks to the flock to get moving again. "Thank you, M'randa," he says in leaving.
The doe nods and watches the other Lapi head off, calling back, "Yur welcome Kalvin! It wath nithe thpeaking with yu." Giving the shepherd a wave Miranda starts lugging the picnic basket back towards her original destination, the warren.
At this hour of the day, there isn't much traffic in or out of the warren. The two guards that are always posted just inside the tunnel entry are sitting on the floor and playing a game of Sab'hak, although one looks up and nods to Miranda as she passes by.
Miranda gives a small return nod to the guard and makes her way towards what would be kitchen and food storage for the warren to drop off the basket of food, idly taking a look at the contents in case there was something in there she might take to snack on. After all, Kalvin didn't want any of what was left, so it was up for grabs now.
Aside from the cheese, there a few small loaves of bread, include the dark kind that is mildly alcoholic. A few pieces of fruit and a bottle of (probably) water or juice fill out the rest, along with napkins.
Miranda picks up a piece of fruit, munching on it contently as she goes about unpacking the rest of the baskets contents into a storage pantry before heading to her room space in the warren.
With most of the Chalks above ground still, the warren is abnormally quiet, and this makes Miranda actually strain to hear the slightest sound of activity.
Not hearing anything beyond the sounds of air circulating about the tunnels, her own breathing, and the occasional drip of water Miranda flicks her ears slightly and calms herself. Continuing towards her room, though a bit more cautiously than she might without even realizing it.
Nothing spooky occurs on the journey, although the doe does find a folded piece of paper on her bed.
Miranda changes out of her 'bunny rancher' overalls and into something a bit more comfortable, noticing the note as she sits on the edge of the bed to pull her clothes on. Cocking an ear to the side the gray Lapi lifts the note and takes a look at it.
There's a simple note inside, that reads, "Come to this tunnel tonight. Bring paper and pencil". A pressed clover is included, along with a map to some side tunnel in the lower levels that Miranda has never seen before.
Clover again eh? I wonder what she's up to. Perhaps she wants me to come meet this mysterious friend of hers who likes the violin? Miranda thinks to herself as she turns the note slightly… Yep that's definitely in a tunnel I've never been to. The doe carefully re-folds the note, clover included, and sets it on her desk so it would not be lost, muttering, "Well, I guess I'll find out what she wants my attention for soon enough."
After a nice visit to town (and a free sample of a fruit pastry from the bakery) and a leisurely dinner, Miranda returns to the warren in the evening to find out what Clover wants. She picks up the requested materials, and starts following the map.
Miranda twitches her nose as she makes her way towards the side-tunnel marked on the map, paper and a pencil held underneath it while she twirls the pressed piece of clover, perhaps a bit nervously, between the fingers of her free hand.
The tunnels in this part of the warren are uninhabited, and don't see much use. There isn't any light beyond the candle the doe carries, which makes it difficult to navigate at times. Eventually, she comes across a tunnel with with a dark figure in it. "It's about time you showed up," Clover says, leaning back against the curve of the wall.
"I'm thorry." Miranda politely apologizes in a rather placating manner, "I've never been down here before tho it wathn't exactly eathey to find my way. What did yu need to meet me for anyway?"
"My friend liked your music," Clover says. "She wants you to write down her music as she plays it, now. You can do that, right?"
The gray doe scratches her cheek and thinks about this for a minute before replying, "I don't have a lot of practithe wif it, but I think I can. It may take thome repeating of noteth on your friend'th part though, depending on the thpeed of tha thong."
Clover smiles, although with the underlighting from the candle it looks a bit sinister. "Great, you wait here then and get your paper ready," the doe says, then turns and walks off into the deeper darkness of the tunnel.
Miranda leans back ever so slightly from the look on Clover's face but replies quickly, "uh, alright, I'll be right here." And with that, the gray Lapi sits back against the tunnel wall, sets the candle down next to herself and gets a sheaf of paper and a pencil ready, quickly laying out barlines while she has a moment… She wonders where exactly Clover would be going.
It's some time before anything happens, and then a low, slow and mournful note echoes down the tunnel. A lullaby, from the tempo, the music comes from a violin more finely tuned than Miranda's own.
Miranda is for a moment entranced, listening closely to the threads of the fine music before she catches herself and quickly scribes down the notes she had missed. Her ears cant in the direction of the sound and every so often she has to pause to struggle with the placement of a note before catching up, but so far the music seems slow enough that she can manage.
The flickering of the candle sometimes makes it hard to focus on the paper. The tunnel itself seems to amplify the low notes of the music, letting Miranda feel the tempo in her gut as well. Even her heartbeat slows to match, as the haunting lullaby plays on. It's starting to affect the doe.
Miranda catches herself with her head nodding forward slightly and rubs her eyes briefly with the back of her hand as she tries to concentrate on getting the musical notation right on the page. Though she does start to notice some of the effect of the music, feeling her breathing and heart slowing slightly is more than a little creepy, and for a moment as she copies Miranda seriously considers leaving what she has copied of the music and exiting back the way she came.
The music keeps playing, and even seems to be coming in layers, as if more than one person is playing. It seems to make the air itself heavy, and wraps around Miranda like a blanket, weighing her down. The candle seems to struggle against it, the flame growing dimmer.
The gray doe struggles to continue taking down the musical notes as they come and seem to settle around her, not one to want to leave a task unfinished, even something requested by Clover, and not sure if she even could get up at this point if she wanted to.
At this point, the music is really creeping into Miranda's head. There are moments when she feels like she is floating in the air, or that the notes she's written down are rearranging themselves. In one particularly lucid moment, she realizes the candle has gone out, and that she's in complete darkness.
Miranda blinks, and blinks again. More than a little nervous and creeped out she notices the darkness. Did she remember to bring extra tinder? The gray Lapi can't be sure, but her hands continue to try to write notes on a page she can't really see now. Scared, but at the same time oddly… well, you couldn't really say calm, everything just seemed to be moving slowly, sluggishly, her heartbeat, her thought processes, all slowed down with the smothering darkness. Darkness she realizes she could easily be lost in if she tried to move.
In the darkness, it's difficult to tell where the music is coming from anymore. Sometimes it seems to move around, or suddenly come from a different direction. One thing that isn't affected is Miranda's ability to sense the presence of another Lapi nearby, as she feels certain Clover has returned.
"Ith that yu Clover?" Miranda calls out a bit weakly, vaguely in the direction she thinks the Lapi presence is coming from, "I think I got motht of tha thong down." she continues, though it comes out in more of a mumble than she expected, her throat feeling dry as though disused.
"You sound tired, Miranda," comes the uncharacteristically soft voice of Clover. The older doe takes away the paper and pencil from the unresisting Miranda, and even scoops the girl up in her arms like a child. "You should sleep now," she whispers.
"I… thhould… thleep now… " Miranda echoes slowly, dimly as she is carried off, the words more of a confirming statement than a suggestion, accented in her odd lisp… And then she is out, like the candle in the darkness.