8 Midsummer, 6107 RTR (Oct 01, 2005) The group make a discovery while searching the abandoned apartments
(Amelia) (Axel) (Olivia) (Stonebarrow) (Sylvania) (Zahnrad)

    Underground Grotto
    This natural cavern is huge, easily one hundred feet across and just as high. Large deposits of glowing rainbow crystal in the walls and ceiling provide light, as well as a general fairy-land aura. A hot spring bubbles forth from midway up the farther wall, the water cascading down in a series of small waterfalls to a central pool at the bottom of the chamber. Colorful, exotic mineral formations provide the illusion of plants of flowers, giving the entire room a garden-like air. Mists cling to the shallower areas, and hover over the central pond.

"Hah, told you so," Zahnrad says smugly as he stands in the open door to an unexplored apartment, and reaches over to turn on the light control. The last thing he was expecting was to be shoved aside by a crazy bird-man, though, and suddenly finds himself on the floor just outside of the doorway.

Zahnrad says quite a few choice curse-words rather loudly as he lands hard on his butt. "Give me one good reason I shouldn't pound on your head till it comes out your backside," he growls at Axel. The Kadie starts to get back to his feet.

"Dey always like dis?" Djivan asks Olivia, his brow raised with curiosity.

Even more crazily, Axel starts flapping his wings and hopping around as if he were on a hot plate! "Awrk!" Like a mirage, the light around Axel begins to bend and twist. "Kaw!"

"What's going on back there?" Amy demands, calling from her post near the cavern entrance.

Olivia's head swivels around to Zahn's position at all of the cursing. "Not unless something's blowing up, no," she says to Djivan, then starts toward the ruckus. "Axel, what is it?" she calls. "What's out there?"

"Axel's got a burr in his butt or something," Zahnrad yells as he dusts off his backside. "You want to pound him or shall I?"

"I remember de last time I acted like dat. It was after having to visit de restroom for de first time after eating Aladar's stew o' doom," Djivan explains to Olivia. "Couldn' sit for a week."

Olivia can't help but grin as she approaches the bird-man. Slowly, she asks, "Axel, what's wrong? What do you see?" She peers around the doorway and adds, "Because I can't see anything that peculiar… "

Axel's head tilts suddenly as he pauses, wobbling. There's a moment where he seems to be staring at something, his heat-haze rippling, before he bursts into action again. Holding his hand out in the classic stop gesture, his body suddenly ignites! Unlike all previous manifestations of Axel's pyrokinetic phenomenon, this manifestation rapidly pours down his arms and (mostly) avoids singing his clothes. The almost liquid flame piles to either side of his outstretched hand, forming a flaming staff! Briefly. The staff turns into a flaming S, then a wobbly flaming snake, writhing about like mad and growing! In the silhouette of the fire a small figure becomes illuminated – before it bursts through the fire charging at Olivia!

Olivia bursts out with something very much like a gypsy curse and reaches down for one of the knives strung into her belt. She tries to bring out and throw the knife at the charging figure in one fluid move, just as Djivan taught her, but her arm ends up wobbling a bit as she shivers, as though assailed by some unseen, icy breeze.

Sparks fly from the dagger while it remains unthrown, and there's a high-pitched shriek of pain. The outline of a Skeek becomes a little more visible as it flees toward the grotto entrance, with a bright glow 'leaking' from its head and its tail on fire. It runs right past an open-mouthed Amelia, then pauses and turns back. Amy yelps and hops up into the air, tail poofed out to look even bigger, and then the burning phantom runs down the canal tunnel and vanishes.

Zahnrad blinks. "Wow, must've had a swamp gas pocket in there," he rationalizes. "Well, that was close."

"Hey, de enchantment thingy worked!" Djivan, master of the obvious, says as he heads over. "And here I thought she did it because it made dem look pretty."

"That perverted ghost goosed me!" Amy complains loudly, brandishing her weapon and glowering down the tunnel.

Axel watches the phantom flee with a similar expression to Amy, only he doesn't suddenly jump. He does, however, hold a flaming staff-noodle-snake sort of magical disaster. The majority of which is now swinging around like a an angry eel, burning the walls, singing his clothes, and being completely forgotten by its holder.

"Ghost? What ghost? All I saw was a gas pocket explode. I bet the force is what you felt," Zahnrad insists. He glances at Axel, shakes his head, then goes in search of a bucket of water.

Olivia blinkblinkblinks a few times, then pulls herself together. "Axel, put that flaming snake-thingiy out or you'll burn us all alive!" she snaps, then sheathes the dagger, taking a few deep, calming breaths.

The bird-man glances at what he's holding, then jumps like Amy. With a startled cry of "awrk" he drops it, shaking his hand as it bit him. The fiery snake-thing squirms as it falls, only to wink out with a rather rude noise seconds after it hits the ground.

Amy rejoins the others, asking, "What happened? Did you do something, Zahn?"

Olivia suppresses a half-grin at the staff's final noise and nods to Axel. "Thanks."

And shortly thereafter, Zahnrad returns, carrying a bag full of water. "I opened the door," Zahnrad says, then looks disappointed to find Axel out. "Aw, and I went and got this," he says. He dumps out the water on the floor.

"Ey, neat, farting magic," is Djivan's only addition to the current topic.

Perhaps to Zahnrad's pleasure, Axel had backed off and into the opened room when he spotted the bucket of water. In fact, his wide-eyed expression looked plain frightened!

After rolling her eyes in exasperation, Amy says, "Don't try to splash Axel, he's afraid of water remember?" She then steps into the newly opened hallway next to Axel, looking around him to check for monsters.

"Well, I'm afraid of being burned to death," Zahnrad retorts and tosses the soggy bag to the side.

Olivia rolls her eyes heavenward as she steps over to check and make sure that the bird-man's clothes are all out now and not still burning. "Saw the ghost of a Skeek come charging through Axel's fire," she says to Amy as she glances over his clothes. "I guess that's what he was reacting to so strongly. Dunno why he felt it necessary to try and ignite half the room, though!"

One of the monsters in the room, Axel, has made himself quite unobtrusive as he stands with his back to a wall. He eyes the doorway he just passed through as if half-expecting the bucket to pursue him. When Olivia walks in he smiles weakly at her.

Amy moves on ahead into the living room, and turns up the lights. "Hey, this one is… uh… different from the others," she reports.

Different always interests Zahn, so he heads in quickly. As he heads by Axel he says, "No more fire!" And when he reaches Amy, he asks excitedly, "Any new machines we can take with us?"

"It be a good t'ing dere no army down here, ve be doomed," Djivan notes as the Skreek goes with the flow and heads in too.

Axel jerks away from Zahnrad when he yells at him, giving him a weak smile, too. Then he scurries off and starts looking around on the opposite side of the room.

Olivia, who was about to pat out a spot on Axel's shirt that was still smoldering pretty badly, aborts this gesture as he moves off. "Too jumpy, that one… not what we need in a fire-starter," she mutters to Djivan as he passes.

"Not exactly," Amy says. The room is bare except for the mummified Skeek curled up in one corner, clutching a large knife that still looks brand new, having a blade made of shiny metallic-glass. The glass-wall diorama is very different too: instead of a pastoral countryside, this one depicts a temple of some sort, with vaguely Olympian styling and open walls looking out over what might be vineyards. The foreground of the scene is a large bathing pool full of frolicking Skeek women. Some are also lounging around outside the pool, and one of them is doing a handstand for some reason.

Immediately fascinated by the knife, Zahnrad makes a beeline for the corpse. "Hey, more of that funky glass-metal stuff," he says. He drops down to his knees and wiggles his fingers, debating the best way to pry it from its hands.

Axel finds his way to the diorama and inspects it briefly, only to lose interest when he discovers it's all about water. He wanders off to look at boring non-diorama walls.

"Hey," Amy says, pointing to one of the provocatively lounging women in the mosaic, wearing nothing but a wreath of flowers on her head. "This one sorta looks like you, Olivia. If you were maybe a bit taller and leaner and curvier."

"An' naked," Djivan adds, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Vhy don' you strip so ve can better compare… "

For her part, Olivia goes up to the diorama and inspects it. "Heh, now it's obvious why this one's ghost goosed Amy and, er tickled me," she murmurs to herself. "More Olympian-type art, though… I think the slide of the airship I saw in Pike's basement was Olympian in its art style, too… " Then she starts and grins at Amy's comment. "Yeah, I've not got a lot of height on me, it's true," she admits.

At Djivan's little outburst, Olivia just grins wickedly. "Not in public, dear," is all she says.

"I'll just compare later, den," Djivan notes and winks at Olivia.

Amy scoots up close, then backs away, then comes in close again to the mural. "It's funny how it all breaks up into beads up close, but looks like real people further back. Can you do stuff like this, Olivia? And Zahn, be careful with that corpse… or at least be sure to wash your hands afterwards."

Carefully, Zahnrad reaches down and tries to pry the mummified fingers off the knife one by one. He just grunts in reply to Amelia.

SNAP CRACKLE POP The fingers are so desiccated that the bones crumble inside them, reducing the hands to little more than leathery gloves.

Amy starts moving towards the bedroom hall, then turns and grabs Axel by the hand. "You go first, and look for ghosts," she tells the bird-man.

"Mmmm, crunchy," Zahnrad comments, looking a bit grossed out. Still, he works the knife free and holds it by the blade carefully so he can inspect the handle.

Axel makes a surprised sound, then follows along as instructed. With bravery – or insanity – he heads down the bedroom hall.

The handle of the knife was probably made of wood at some point, but most of it falls away as the blade is held up. There are soon only a few bits clinging to the haft of the blade, where some holes are bored through so the handle could be attached.

"Ah, replacement needed. I can certainly handle that," Zahnrad notes. Djivan makes a retching motion at the rather bad joke in the background. Zahn stands up and looks around for the kitchen so he can wash things off.

"Oh, I have done the like before, Amy," Olivia calls after her and Axel, "just not with glass beads. With things from nature, actually – stones, bits of bark. You've seen the results on my walls at the Weavers'!"

The bedrooms and bathroom turn out to be bare of any objects, mundane or supernatural, and look just like the rooms in the previous apartments.

"Nothing interesting in the other rooms," Amy says, and looks into the kitchen to make sure Zahn hasn't cut off his fingers or anything.

Zahnrad is busily washing off the remains of mummy flesh and wood from the handle. "What?" he asks, looking over at Amelia.

Barren rooms, like displays about water, just can't hold Axel's interest, it seems. He wanders back out of the bedroom area and resumes wandering around the kitchen aimlessly.

"Just checking up on you," Amy says. "In case the knife was cursed or something and was going to turn in you into some kind of sex-fiend. Funny to find that guy all alone in an empty room though. The other shut-in still had a bedroom full of stuff."

"Sex fiend? Me? You can't be serous," Zahnrad remakes, then shakes his head and gets back to cleaning off the knife.

"Maybe if Zahn got laid more, it voul' improve his disposition," Djivan remarks to Olivia.

Olivia snerks loudly before she can stop herself, then eyes Zahn. "Sorry," she says lamely, then swats Djivan – although not very hard, Zahn notices.

"He probably locked himself in this room after something attacked. Like the one who barricaded himself in the bedroom," Zahnrad suggests, cutting off the sentence rather curtly. He shakes the knife off and notes, "My getting anything is none of any of your business."

Returning to the main room, Amy sits down in front of the mummy and just stares at it for a bit. "It doesn't make sense," she says. "He's hiding here, with a knife, in the dark, behind a locked door, like he was afraid something was coming to get him. But what could scare someone enough to curl up and eventually die?"

Zahnrad returns to the living room, then says, "I'm going back to the boat to get some cloth to wrap this in. I don't exactly feel safe carrying around a bare blade." And with a glare to Djivan, he adds, "Plus, it's getting a little crowded in here."

"As for what scared him, probably the Overlord, or whatever was scrawled on that one wall," Zahn comments as he heads out.

"Even his ghost stayed hiding in here," Amy mutters, then gets up and heads for the door as well. "I'll go stand watch some more, in case the ghost comes back."

"You don't have to worry about me, Amy," Zahn comments as he disappears out the door.

Olivia sighs as everyone goes, then looks at Djivan. "So much for that comment improving his disposition," she says lightly. "He'll be okay, though – give him some space. Perhaps we can work on unlocking that other door? Like you were trying to do before we got interrupted by the ghost?"

"See? Grumpy. He need to relax more. Not'ing better to relax to … " Djivan remarks, then tilts his head. He heads over to the corpse now and keels down. With piercing eyes, he starts looking the body over. "Gimme a sec," he remarks absently to Olivia. "Lookin' for old wounds on dis t'ing."

Olivia ohs! and goes over to stand by the Skreek now. "Good idea! Could tell us how he died… unless it was just from starvation, maybe."

Amy pauses at Zahn's comment, then returns to the room to look at Djivan looking at the corpse. With skin so old and leathery, it's hard to tell if there are any wounds, since the skin has folded in on the collapsing body so much.

"Yeah, or if he vas tortured, or vho knows vhat else," Djivan notes as he carefully tries to move the corpse as he examines it. "Someone coul' get some water an we could soak dis t'ing so we could unfold it… " he suggests.

Nothing unexpected interferes with Zahn's errand, and he soon has the knife safely rapped up in some heavy cloth.

Olivia nods and goes to get the empty waterbag that Zahn dropped earlier. "I'll be right back with some," she tells the gypsy, then goes to fill it in the pool.

Zahn returns after getting some cloth and goes about tying the bundle tightly closed.

"Eww, maybe you should put it in the bathtub first then?" Amelia suggests.

"Is dere a bathtub in here?" Djivan asks.

Axel meanders around more, then pauses when he steps past the corpse. Backing up a step, Axel tilts his head, then mantles his wings as he kneels down to peer at several of its shiny buttons.

Amy points through the entry to the second hallway, where the bathroom is set between the bedrooms. "Just like in the others."

"Want to be pink again?" Zahnrad asks as he re-enters the room. He tucks the bundled knife into his belt and walks over to stand near Amelia. "Sorry," he says quietly.

Djivan grimaces and tries to pick up the dessicated corpse. "Here's one t'ing I never thought I'd be doing," he notes.

Olivia comes back inside the room just as Djivan takes hold of the mummified Skeek. "Where are you taking him?" she asks, surprised.

It's a bit like trying to carry a loose bundle of dried leaves without losing any. Amy goes on ahead to turn on the bathroom lights, then scoots back out so Djivan can bring in the remains.

"Bathtub, Amy's idea," Djivan says to Olivia. "Bring de bag. Ve stil need it."

Olivia nods and slings the closed and full waterbag across one shoulder. "Need help?" she offers.

"This'll be messy I bet," Amy whispers to Zahn as she rejoins him. "Did you see or hear anything unusual outside?"

Axel steps back when the corpse is lifted, backing away until he bumps against the wall. Curious, he watches the man take the body off for a bath.

"No, quiet as a tomb," Zahnrad notes to Amelia, then regrets the choice of words. "You okay? You looked rather startled back there," he says.

"I'd never been touched by a ghost before," Amy says. "So yeah, I was startled."

"Didn't you touch my brother?" Zahnrad asks as he glances over at her. "I'll brush down your tail tonight, by the way. The poofing can't be good for it."

Carefully carrying the crumbling corpse into the bathroom, Djivan lays it down into the tub. Bits crack and fall off. "Heh, time to make some zombie stew," he notes, grimacing as he glances over his shoulder for Olivia.

"Well, yeah, but he wasn't… creepy," Amy says, sitting down and holding her tail still. "I didn't think of him as a ghost at the time."

The bird man pokes his head in the door to watch Djivan make "corpse stew." If it bothers him, Axel doesn't show it. He has remained distinctly blank – if hyperactive – since the threat of being soak ended.

Zahnrad sits down beside her and nods. "Well, he didn't either from what you told me," he says and peers around the room. "I bet they were attacked," he notes. "Maybe those strange mole creatures with the claws? Maybe those things are mutant Skeeks."

Olivia makes a wry face of her own and hands the waterbag down to him. "What else do you need me to do?" she asks.

Djivan takes the waterbag and starts to pour it lightly over the body. "Hmm, good question," he notes. "Maybe see if vou can find a stick or something to poke it with. I no really want to touch a wet dead body."

Most of the fur and outer layer of skin slough off of the mummy under the water, which at least makes it easier to tell what parts are actually clothing.

"No scratches," Amy points out. "Those claws left gouges in stone… mutant Skeeks? I suppose they could be. Is that what you think happened to the people that lived here?"

Grimacing, Djivan goes slowly, looking for any obvious wounds on the skin.

"Maybe," Zahnrad says with a shrug. "Maybe those things were slaves to the Skeeks and they rebelled. Hard to say unless we go deeper and learn more."

There aren't any obvious wounds on the corpse, or suspicious holes in his clothing (the fibers of which are already beginning to unravel as they soak up the water).

Olivia thinks about this request for a moment and then gets an idea. "Well, I'll do what I can," she says, and heads back out into the room with all the crystal flowers and plants. She looks for a 'plant' with some particularly long 'branches' and snaps one of them off, with a bit of effort. She carries this back to the Skreek.

Looking to Axel, Amy says, "Ghosts are cold, and you're hot. So you must be extra-alive then, Axel, and not undead."

Djivan takes it and carefully prods the soaking body. "I don' see anything obvious, I'm afraid," he notes to Olivia. "Vell, aside from dis bein' really gross."

Something goes clink against the bottom of the tub after a bit of corpse-poking.

Olivia hmmms. "So maybe he did just stay in there until he starved – or just got frightened to death. It can happen," she notes. Then she raises her head quickly. "What was that noise?" she asks.

"It vas a clink," Djivan explains ot Olivia. "Happens when somet'ings hits another. He grins.

Axel's wings flutter when Amy makes her comment to him. "Doctor Pike said she would find out. If I'm dead. Undead? Warm-dead? Not cold dead. Extra warm alive-undead," he tells her.

Olivia sighs in exasperation. "So what made the clinking noise, genius?" she growls.

"A secret clinking thingy," Djivan says, obviously trying to annoy Olivia.

"That fire-snake thing was impressive," Amelia notes. "Was it supposed to act like that?"

Olivia grimaces and walks over to the Skreek, where she promptly thumps him on the side of the head with her thumb and forefinger. "Find it?" she says, mock-menacingly.

Djivan ows, "I be almost fatally wounded!" He coughs, then starts fishing around in the tub. "I be lookin' I be lookin'," he says quickly before he gets hit again.

The bird man stares at Amy, looking especially blank for the brief moment it takes him to remember. He holds out his hand as if about to make another one, but there isn't the tell-tale heat distortion, and no flames appear. "A weapon. I thought to make a weapon, remembered it from before – and before before. Far before. It's difficult," he explains.

"Wouldn't a sword or maybe a canon be better?" Zahnrad asks.

The bottom of the tub has gotten a bit gooey, but Djivan's fingers have their own sort of intelligence when it comes to finding things. It only takes a moment for them to recover a rectangular piece of silvery material, about the size and length of two Skeek fingers held next to each other. One end is blank, save for a hole that a thong might fit through, and the other half is covered in raised bumps and odd-sized pits, arranged in no obvious pattern.

Axel's head tilts. "I don't remember a sword or a cannon. What's a cannon?"

"A tube that explodes and throws things," Zahnrad tries to explain.

"A cannon is something you don't want to make out of fire," Amy says, and nudges Zahn with her elbow. "Maybe you should just start carrying a staff or something, Axel."

"Gunther makes many cannons," Axel says, comprehending.

Djivan turns the odd device over in his hands. "Vou know … I bet dis is a key," he says, grinning a bit too much. "I vonder vhat treasures it leads to… "

Zahnrad elbows Amelia back. "What?" he asks.

"Don't go giving him dangerous suggestions," Amy says to Zahn.

Axel seems to think about Amy's advice, then answers, "I don't have a staff to carry. I have fire, though – it's everywhere. Especially here."

"It's not like explosions or fire hurts him," Zahn points out.

Olivia's eyes open wide as she examines the object. "I think it's-" Then she hears what Djivan is saying and blushes sheepishly. "Yeah, a key. Beat me to the punch." Then she muses, "Are there any doors around here that have a 'lock' this might fit into? Or were they all outfitted with buttons?"

"Well, they hurt everything else," Amy points out right back at Zahn. "Axel, a staff… a staff still works even when it's wet. Like, in the rain?"

The bird-man frowns at this. "I don't want a wet staff," he complains.

"Not any I've seen," Djivan says and stands. He rinses off his hands in the sink and says, "Let's go show de others, eh?"

"Er, maybe you should look into just getting a bodyguard then, Axel," Amelia says, giving up for now.

Olivia nods and leads the way back out when Djivan finishes de-goo-ifying his hands.

"Ve haf found great and sacred treasures of yore on de body! Or vell, ve found a key," Djivan declares triumphantly as they return to the living room.

Waving to Olivia as she returns, Amy asks, "So, did the idea Djivan floated hold any water?"

Zahnrad elbows Amelia for that comment.

Axel looks around at the gathered people, then in the direction of the "corpse soup", before taking a seriously doubtful expression. He gives Amy a "I see what you do to bodies" sort of look.

Olivia stares fiercely at Amelia for that bit of punishment. "Well, not so much in finding out how he died," she replies. "But we did find a weird sort of key on the body. Now we need to start looking for anything with a lock on it, other than a bunch of buttons." She waits for the gypsy to show the key.

Djivan is currently petting the key. He coughs, then holds out the key. "Key," he then says rather lamely.

"Bright one you got there," Zahnrad comments to Olivia.

Olivia sighs to Zahn. "Yeah, well, at least he's entertaining," she replies.

"How do you know it's a key?" Amy asks, peering at the shiny rectangle.

"It look like a key," Djivan notes, "An I seen a lot of keys. It prolly worn on a necklace. The plain part is vhere vou hold it. De bumpy part goes in de hole.""

"Looks like it could be used to grate cheese too," Amy suggests, then turns to Zahn and asks, "Could it really be a key?"

Axel eyes the key suspiciously. Finding it's not particularly wet, but also not very shiny, he only examines it with mild interest before resuming his hyperactive look-around.

Olivia laughs a little. "I like cheese as much as the next Skeek, but I don't go about with a cheese-grater around my neck all the time," she chides Amy gently. "Neither does any other Skeek I know."

"It was only a suggestion," Amy says, her ears blushing slightly.

Zahnrad motions to Djivan to hand him the object. Djivan does so. Zahn peers at it for a bit, then says, "Yes. Basically, the lock could be a series or rounded bar-pins. The bumps and indentions are designed to raise and lower the pins in the lock into the position which then lets the whole device turn. It would be pretty difficult to make such a precise lock, though."

"More difficult than the machines in the walls of these homes?" Amy asks.

"Heh, easier," Zahnrad notes and offers the key to Amelia. He then thinks of something and stands. The Kadie then makes a beeline for the mural and leans in to examine it intently, particularly the hand-standing Skeek.

"That isn't a keyhole, Zahn, it's… ah… " Amy starts to say.

There doesn't appear to be any openings or slots where the key might fit in the mural. The glass pane holding the beads is unbroken.

"I'm looking for a hidden keyhole," Zahnrad says and waves a hand dismissively. "Maybe this is the wrong room and once that one got locked in here he couldn't get to the room that has the keyhole for this. We should check the others."

Olivia eyes the gypsy again. "Which means you should go back to picking the lock on the door we were trying to get into before," she says, grinning.

"Watch out for ghosts though," Amelia warns, and stands up again. For now, she tucks the key into one of her pockets.

"Hmm, I sense a hint," Djivan notes, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. He crouches down in an exaggerated sneaking pose and slinks towards the door. "Cover me butt, I be makin' a break for it!"

"Correction, he's brain damaged," Zahn notes to Olivia as he gets up.

Perhaps sensing he may need to push more people around, Axel follows after Djivan. "Your butt is already covered," he reminds the Skreek.

"Stay sharp, Axel," Amy says. "You need to watch for spirits while the others work… and maybe we should just do one door at a time instead of two."

Olivia looks at the seat of the gypsy's pants and remarks, "Looks covered enough to me, but if you want extra coverage… " She dives forward as if to pinch his bottom but he rushes past and they both disappear out the door, laughing.

"If we ever act like that, I want someone to kill us," Zahnrad whispers to Amelia, then heads after the two nutballs.

"I'm not very sharp," Axel admits, doubtfully. He reaches up and runs a hand across head head, perhaps looking for sharpness, then pricks a finger on his blackening nails. "I'll try."

With a resigned sigh, Amy heads out last. Maybe a monster will show up to distract her, she silently hopes.

After several hours of tinkering with locks, the group has managed to open another four doors – all leading to identical, barren apartments. Without the sun to go by, the most accurate means of telling time is by listening for grumbling stomachs. So the five explorers return to their designated 'base camp' apartment to prepare dinner.

In the kitchen, Amy holds a kettle in one hand while trying to puzzle out the device that is generally believed to be a stove. "Uh, what do people want to eat?" she asks.

Zahnrad seals the door once everyone has made it inside. "Well, I guess that was sort of productive. We have an odd key, but no idea where it goes or what really happened here," he remarks as he heads over to stand in the kitchen doorway. "Uhhh, not meat," he offers as a suggestion.

"Bread, fruit, meat, … " Axel recites, going over everything he has previously eaten for Amy's 'benefit.'

Olivia thinks this over. "I have some wheat bread and sliced cheese – we could make toasted cheese sandwiches, if anyone likes," she offers.

"That sounds good," Amy says. "All the stuff I brought is dried to preserve it, so we should get rid of any fresh stuff first." To Axel, she whispers, "I brought smoked meat jerky, do you want to try that?"

Axel's wings perk. "Yes," he answers. "I like smoke."

Zahnrad heads over to the stove and fiddles with a few of the controls to try and get it going.

After thinking about it a bit, Amy gives Axel some of the fish jerky, figuring he wouldn't want the rabbit or Rughrat kind, given how much time he spends with the Chalks and their herds.

Olivia nods to Amy and goes back to the cold-closet to retrieve the cheese, then to her pack to pull out the bread she brought. She places these items down on another countertop and pulls out one of her throwing knives. "Forgive me, Natasha… I hope this doesn't taint the taste… " she mutters, then uses the enchanted knife to slice the small loaf.

Nibbling the food a bit, Axel seems to find it tasty. He flutters as he continues in to his smoky meal, making pleased birdlike sounds that probably shouldn't come from a human throat.

Djivan watches Axel chew on the smoked fish and comments, "Vell, at leas' he didn' try to eat the mummy."

"Ahah," Zahnrad says triumphantly as he finally gets the stove working based off what he remembers from last time.

"It's not going to explode, right?" Amy asks Zahn, just to be sure.

"Shouldn't," Zahnrad says and rubs Amelia's back with a free hand. "I'll be right beside you in case something goes wrong, anyway," he adds.

In between a bite Axel tells Olivia, "Good," before recommencing nibbling.

Now that those tasks are over, Olivia looks for some sort of griddle or flat pan to put on the odd stove on which to toast the sandwiches.

"Vou know, if it came to it, bet ve could use de bird t'ingie as a stove," Djivan points out.

Amy points to the pack that has the camp cooking gear, which is mostly passable for real cooking. "I'd get it myself, but I don't want to leave the back rub," she apologizes to the Skeek.

Olivia smiles warmly at the Kadie girl. "Completely understandable," she says, then goes over to the pack to dig out a small frying pan. Once she's found it, she takes it over to the stove and asks Zahn, "Okay… so how do you work this contraption?"

Taking that as a clue, Zahnrad moves behind Amelia and uses both hands to rub her back now. "I can still see some of the white stripe," Zahn notes to Amelia. He then looks over Amelia's shoulder and motions with his nose towards the knobs. "Just turn those. To the right it gets hotter, to the left, cooler. Pretty straight forward," he says.

"It's all out of my tail though, right?" Amy asks Zahn.

Olivia nods a bit warily, but goes bravely over to the machine and places her frying pan on one of the burners that isn't going yet, to see if she can do everything right. She turns the corresponding knob little by little, until the flame is just right, and waits for the pan to heat to the right temperature. "So how many am I making?" she asks the assembled.

"One for each of us," Amy replies, then looks to Axel and asks, "Can you eat cheese?"

"I can still make out a faint white line," Zahn tells Amelia, "Maybe brushing it will get it the rest of the way out. I'll work on it later when people bed down for the night." Upon hearing the question for sandwiches, he says, "One for me, please."

"I can eat cheese," Axel answers. Olivia might remember Axel eating some of her cheese when he was staying with her. He looked at it like it might bite him, at first.

"You'll brush me?" Amy asks, sounding a little surprised. "I almost hope it doesn't all come out then," she adds with a giggle.

"All right then," Olivia answers. Going over to the sink, she wets one forefinger and flicks a drop of water onto the pan and eyes it critically as it hisses and sizzles away. "Good enough." Then she begins toasting the first sandwich. As the bread browns, she goes to her pack again and takes out a small cloth kitchen towel on which to place the completed sandwiches.

"Why wouldn't I brush you?" Zahnrad asks, sounding a bit confused. "All you ever have to do is ask me, you know."

Axel perks up a bit when the heat from the kitchen reaches him. He looks around, spots the stove, then stands up to wander over and peer at it curiously. "Is the stove extra-alive?" he asks Amelia.

"Hey Djivan," Amy calls out to the Skreek, and points to a big bundle under the landscape mosaic. "Those are the bedrolls. There are towels we can use for pillows or seats too, so can you take some out so we can sit down to eat?"

To Zahn, Amy says, "I know… but you offered without my asking. It's sweet."

"Sure! I von't even look through vour extra clothing, or try and steal vour skivvies," Djivan says, then slinks back into the living room and starts preparing an little eating area for the group.

"Yes, well, I'm never quite sure when I should offer. I like taking care of you, but I'm never sure if it might just annoy you," Zahnrad whispers quietly and quickly. His hands shift up and he rubs at the base of Amelia's neck. To the others, he asks louder, "How deep do we want to go? I'd personally like to find out where the key goes."

Since Amelia seems distracted, Axel abandons his question and attempts to deal with the stove directly. "I like fire," he tells the stove in a friendly manner. Then he watches it expectantly, perhaps waiting for a reply.

Olivia flips the first sandwich expertly out of the pan and onto the towel she's prepared, then sets up the second one. "So would I. I'd like to know what's behind the lock with so interesting a key."

Olivia smiles over at Axel as she works. "I don't think it's going to answer you, it's just an object. It's not extra-warm-alive, like you are."

"With our luck, it's probably a food locker that's just rotted," Zahnrad notes to Olivia.

"Ah," says Axel, sounding disappointed. He pokes at the stove a few times – especially the heating elements. "It is very warm."

Olivia gives the Kadie boy a lop-sided grin at that. "Probably… but if we don't find it, our curiosity is just going to eat away at us, isn't it?"

"Oh heck yeah. I'm just saying it'll probably be something dumb and boring," Zahn notes with a grin.

A few nasty-sounding sizzles result from Axel poking the heating surface, but he seems unphased by it. The result does make his finger smoke, however.

Olivia laughs, then turns back to Axel. "It is, which makes it nice to cook with," she replies. "If it were alive, I don't think it would stand still long enough for us to do this!" She then watches him burn his finger, but does not get too excited over it – he did burn his finger on a candle-flame once, after all, and not get hurt.

Axel nods slowly as Olivia talks, playing with the heat source as he listens. Eventually he seems to get tired of poking the device and instead lays a hand down very close to it. With a source of heat so close to his body he smiles, wings relaxing, generally looking as if he's having a right happy time about it.

"I suppose we could try one of the other canals in the morning," Amy says, still looking a bit distracted. "I think the one with the saber-toothed rabbit leads towards the swamp, and the two-headed Skeek towards the old manor and maybe to the source of the hot springs next to the dam."

"My vote would be towards the old manor and dam, then. Maybe there are passages near my home which provide easier access to down here," Zahn suggests. "I could make salvage runs, then," he adds and starts scratching the back of Amelia's neck lightly with his clawtips.

The Kadie girls makes a happy chittering noise, and just says, "Okaymmm… sounds good to meee."

Olivia notes Amelia's contented sighing and looks over at her, setting up the third sandwich. "Hey, no passing out before dinner!" she teases.

Trying not to smile, Zahn keeps up the light scratching. "About ready to eat, Olivia?" he asks, glancing towards the Skeek. Out in living room, Djivan has finished setting up and alas, he couldn't resist and is looking through everyone else's stuff.

Catching it out of the corner of her eye, Amy becomes more alert and warns, "Don't be sniffing around in my tea bag, Djivan! That's special tea, just for girls."

Like Amy, Axel seems to be lost in simple pleasures. In his case being warm and toasty – or perhaps warm and burnt.

"Yeah, just about. Two more sandwiches to go after this one, and they toast up pretty fast. Want to get out the drinks and the dried fruits Amy brought?" Olivia asks. "Or whatever else you brought to eat that you'd like?"

Amy eyes Axel too. "You can't sleep on the stove, Axel. You can use a blanket like the rest of us, okay?"

"Tea for girls? How's that?" Zahnrad inquires, finally stopping the scratching and taking a step back. Djivan stops whatever he was doing and just whistles.

Axel immediately frowns, but he keeps right on baking himself.

"It's special tea that Isolde gave me," Amy tells Zahn. "I brought regular tea we can all drink too."

"How's it special?" Zahn inquires, looking confused. Djivan seems to also be curious about this and seems to be taking quick sniffs of Amelia's things now and then.

"It's medicinal," Amy says of the tea. "For female stuff."

"Oh, are you having problems? Should me make it for you?" Zahnrad asks and scratches his own cheek.

Axel looks up from his personal baking, and he looks concerned. "Problems Amelia?"

"I'm not having problems, Zahn," Amelia explains. "It's to prevent problems. It's better that I mix it up myself, since I don't know what effect the ingredients might have on you."

As if on cue, the moment the final sandwich is finished, the kettle Amy had placed on the stove begins to whistle, indicating that the water has come to a boil. Very carefully, The Skeek turns off both burners and says to Axel, "Sorry, but the cooking is done now. When Amy makes porridge for breakfast tomorrow, you can stand by the stove again!"

"Er, okay," Zahnrad says, still looking like he has no clue what she's talking about. "I can't imagine any sort of ingredients having odd effects, but okay." He wanders back into the living room and deliberately moves Amelia's bag away from the sniffing rat.

Amy follows, and retrieves her bags of herbs. "Now, who wants some tea? Special witch blend, it's really good," she asks.

Again, Axel looks disappointed. He shuffles away from the stove and plops down to sit with everyone else, putting his chin down on his smoking hand.

"Sure. I'm up for trying something new," Zahnrad says, smiling.

"Sounds good, I also have flasks of cold tea if anyone wants that later," Olivia says, taking the cloth of warm sandwiches over to the eating-place Djivan made for them.

Djivan makes evil bwaahahahaing noises and moves like he's going to grab all the sandwiches for himself…

Picking up the leather camp-mugs along the way, Amy hurries back to the kitchen to fix the tea. "Now, was it powdered honey, or powdered hickory again?" she quietly asks herself as she starts mixing the tea and pouring the water.

"Hey now, if you want seconds I can make you another sandwich later!" Olivia chides him, shaking her head.

"If I offer vou some of the spoils, vill vou give them to me now?" Djivan asks conspiratorially and winks at Olivia.

Amy returns with the mugs of hot tea and hands them around. "It may be a bit sweet or a bit bitter, or both. It's been awhile since I made this."

"No," Olivia says flatly, completely dead-pan.

Djivan darns. Zahnrad takes the mug and sniffs it curiously. He then just takes a drink. Apparently he's feeling brave.

Axel slowly tilts to the side his head is leaning on. He has to flap now and then to keep from falling over. When Amy comes around he perks up again. Once he has the mug he cuddles up to it, seeming more interested in its heat than its flavor.

Amelia takes a sip next, and nods her head. "That's about right. It's got honey in it, and some tasty flowers."

Olivia puts down her mug to cool a bit, then heads back for the dried fruits Amy brought and the iced sugar cookies she brought. Then she sits down in her place and takes up her tea and sips it.

Zahnrad hmms. "Pretty good," he remarks and sets the mug down now. And then thinking back to the earlier conversation, he asks, "And you didn't mix up the teas, right?"

"Of course not," Amelia says. "I was a pretty good witch-in-training you know. But if you start to feel funny, tell me. Just in case."

Olivia considers her tea. "Well, I think it tastes nice – it's not bitter at all to me, just lightly sweet," she says and takes another drink.

Zahn grins and takes another drink. "I had to ask, you made it sound like horrible things would happen if a guy drank the other stuff," he notes, then reaches for a sandwich.

Taking a sandwich of her own, Amy says, "I didn't mean it would cause horrible things… just that I didn't know what it would do." Then she's too busy eating to do much more talking.

"Well, I can't imagine it could do much, it's just tea, after all," Zahnrad notes, then gets busy eating as well.

Axel takes a sandwich as well, and this he stacks on top of his tea so now he has two heat sources!

"Eath your food orth suffeth a baththt," Zahnrad chides Axel while eating.

Olivia snags a sandwich, too, then a bit of dried apple and a cookie, as well. She settles down to eating.

Axel peers at Zahnrad as if he had suddenly gone mad, eyes narrow and suspicious. The bird man squints, leans towards the Kadie, then seems to notice him looking at his food. Carefully, Axel hides his food with a wing.

After the meal, Amy and Olivia retreat to the kitchen to whisper and conspire against the men, who they've just asked to set up the blankets in the bedrooms. Except for Axel, who will presumably stay in the living room with the shiny mural (and near the kitchen and its tempting stove).

In blissful ignorance of any plotting, Zahnrad just goes into the back room and starts setting up a bedroll. "Now, if I break down the stove into sections, I bet I can carry it out on the boat," he muses to himself, working out an attack plan in his head. He doesn't seem to have forgotten, though, the offer of brushing out Amelia's tail, as he sets out the items to do that as well beside the bedroll. He also decides he simply must get a sniff of that tea. Scientific, inquiring minds, simply must know.


GMed by BoingDragon

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Today is 20 days after Candlemass, Year 25 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6124)