Due to the sheer size of the Dreadnaught class Imperial airship, the officer cabins are fairly large as airship cabins go. The room is ceiling to floor covered in finely planed and sanded wood that has been stained to a deep amber color. The furniture, what little there is, is also crafted from fine wood. In one corner is a desk that is bolted to the floor. Its upper section contains various latched drawers, which contain paper and inks for writing notes or signing orders. In the other corner, next to a series of ceramic pipes that are part of the heating system, is a low, circular bed, crafted for Nagas to coil upon when they rest. One wall is adorned with rich drapery covered in elegant crests depicting the various branches of the Imperial Military. The other walls contain various ceremonial items, such as a set of crossed swords, a series of small airship models, and a set of commendations that the ship has received over its years of service
Time seemed to fly by after after meeting with the Emperor and his generals. The proclamation of the Emperor that Umeko be the new 'Governess Militant' of the region left the reptile in a state of shock. The group was split up and shown to various bunking quarters in the ship as well as where the baths were should they wish to clean. Being a typical male, Xander is the first to finish and decided to look in on Umeko. It took a bit of asking around to find out exactly where her quarters were assigned, but eventually he made it up to the officers deck and into her room. She isn't present, though, but her Kimono hangs near the heating pipes where it has been drying. It appears it has also been carefully cleaned; the blue and silver fabric shimmering lightly again.
"Hmmm," Xander muses, looking about. "If I was a young lady who just had a huge burden put on her, where would I go?" He leans down to see if anyone is hiding under the circular bed cushions.
While Xander is trying to look under the cushions, the door opens, then closes behind him. "I do not think there is anything hidden under the bed, Xander," comes Umeko's voice from behind the Lapi. There's a pause, then she adds, "Plus I checked earlier."
Xander jerks upright, causing his hears to flap a bit before he can bring them back up. "Oh! I thought you might be hiding, or… drunk," the Lapi admits.
"No. I took a bath. I looked horrible," Umeko admits. The Kiriga comes into view as she walks over and sits on the edge of the bed. She's currently clothed in a rather ill-fitting bathrobe that looks designed for longer bodies than hers is. She folks her hands into her lap and looks at the Lapi with an expression that is more, well, emotional, than she usually has … she looks worried. "Though a drink would not be unwelcome right now," she admits as her head droops down.
"You're holding up remarkably well," Xander says and sits next to the Kiriga. "I thought you'd be climbing the walls or trying to make a parachute out of bedsheets."
"I can't fit through the windows," Umeko admits as she looks down at her hands. "I don't even know what to think of all this, Xander. I've been named the new Governess of this region should we take Viper's Hold. Not because of skill, but just because of my lineage. I can't help like I'e gone from being one pawn, to another."
"Well, Military Governess," Xander corrects. "That's not exactly a permanent position. You only need to hold it long enough to swear fealty to the Empire, and then the Emperor can put in a proper puppet. So… it's not like you'll need to actually do anything much."
"Close enough. I bear all the shame should it fail and none of the rewards should it succeed," Umeko points out and puts her head in her hands now. "This is not what I had planned or wanted."
"I wanted to be a librarian as a boy," Xander notes. "But hey, that's life, right? No matter how weird it gets, it's still better than the alternative! So cheer up, boss some people around, and think of how we're going to capture the Governor."
"And while we're doing that Lilac is stuck out in that nightmare with the Cinders," Umeko says and shakes her head. "If she's even still alive. It may be weeks before we make it back to her. And after that I may have to go before the Emperor himself. You do realize that my father would likely be there for that? The news will reach him eventually. Or Hakuu may show up and re-assert his marriage claim to me and given that he is of even higher birth … the Emperor could put in as the new Governor with his precious little Governess all, well who knows how made up and modified at his side. And if that happens, the Cinders still have free reign in the area. It's not like we have any direct evidence linking Hakuu to Beshret after all, only our word on what we have seen."
"Lilac will get the evidence," Xander assures Kin, and puts an arm around her shoulders before she can get more worked up. "Don't worry about everything that might go wrong, Ki- Umeko. Just the things you have control over."
Umeko tilts her head up slightly to look at the Lapi. "When did you become so calm?" she asks him.
"Cold Shower," Xander explains. "Double my usual dose. I could be on fire right now and not really mind much."
The corners of Umeko's mouth twitch. "And here I thought you were trying to be the strong male and comfort me," she tells the buck then rests her chin on his shoulder. "Not that it matters either way, I'll take it. There is so much riding on all of us. Not just in stopping this war, but the Cinders as well, the hidden war. Part of me feels like I should know what to do and be a strong warrior. The other part … well, in truth wants to just curl up in the bed and hug a pillow. And in the end, I don't want fail all of you."
"Nothing wrong with curling up and hugging things," Xander opines, trying to sound wise. "It's what lets you do the strong warrior stuff later, after all."
Umeko lets out a small huff. "You're cute sometimes," she admits. "And crazy, and foolish, and many other things. But ,I'm glad you're my friend, Xander. You listen to me and you've been there when I've needed someone. Thank you."
"Only sometimes?" Xander asks, sounding hurt. "You get to be beautiful all the time though. That's hardly fair."
Other times you can be handsome. There is a difference," Umeko notes to the buck as she lifts her head from his shoulder. "And I'm not beautiful all the time; I certainly wasn't when I spoke with the Emperor and I'm not right now, either."
"He seemed to admire you," Xander notes. "He was more interested in you than in the map even."
"I think that was only because he knew me to be of noble blood and it fit within his desires for the region," Umeko points out.
"Well… eh, probably," Xander admits, scratching at his chest. "The higher up you are, the more politics consumes every thought. Still… uh… I forgot what the point I was trying to make was. But at least you've got that army you wanted. Just need to move before Beshret changes his plans."
"That means we would need to end the fight at Viper's Hold quickly. I don't even know how large our 'army' is," Umeko admits. "I need to meet with the General and get some information as to his plans and tactics. In truth, I will likely defer to him. Large battles are not something I have experience with."
"I don't think they'd be taking your advice yet anyway," Xander notes, "beyond what you can tell them about the enemy forces. They might spare some of the escort ships to go and try to take the enemy airfield though."
"I would be surprised if they listened to me at all," Umeko says with a small shrug. "So, your opinion is to take out the airships first. I presume because of the mages?"
"They seem to be the main support that the Cinders are giving Beshret," Xander says, nodding. "Take them out and the others won't be much of an issue."
Umeko hmms. "I will consider suggesting that, then," she says.
"Thanks," Xander says. "I didn't get a lot of military tactics training, but 'take out the air support' is always a good move."
"And in any case, I should meet with the General and get to know him. I expect I will be dealing a lot with him in the near future," the Kiriga adds as she slips off the bed from where she was sitting. "I do have to wonder what he things of all this and if he is angered by it. By the Kiriga intruder coming in on his moment of glory, as it were."
"Mixed," Xander suggests. "You may be taking some of the glory, but you also take all of the responsibility if things go pear-shaped."
"Still, if I were him, I would not be pleased," Umeko comments as she feels over her kimono hanging near the heat pipes to see how dry it is. "Dasha wasn't pleased by her expression."
"I thought she seemed surprised more than anything," Xander notes. "But you're better at reading reptilian moods I imagine."
"It may have simply been concern that I was being set up to take the blame for any problems," Umeko notes with a shrug. Her borrowed bathrobe slides off her body and pools at her feet. In the light and with her mane rather flat, the bony protrusions of horn that trail down her neck and the length of her spine are much more noticeable. She steps out of it and lifts her kimono from its place of hanging. "Would you like to help me dress?" she asks the Lapi as she sets the obi aside for the moment.
Xander freezes for a moment, even with the extra dose of Cold Shower. "I… is it complicated?" he asks.
"It would depend on how much you want to help," Umeko says as she turns to face him, kimono draped over her arms. "If you do not, I am certainly not offended."
"Rrrr, how much I wanted to help?" Xander asks, seriously befuddled. "It's more than just holding it up for you is it then?"
"Well, there are lots of ties to cinch and adjust. A kimono is made of several parts, after all. There is the under layer, then the top layer, then the obi," Umeko explains as she starts separating the two layers. "You can just hold. You can put on and even handle the ties, or you can just wait while I do it myself. It's up to you." She then pauses and looks Xander, her webbed ears sag a bit. "Oh, I am making you uncomfortable, aren't I?"
"You're naked again," Xander notes. "It makes me a little… distracted, admittedly. But I can still help. What sort of knots do you need things tied in?"
"Ah, right. I forget we must look creepy to mammals. I just think of you as a friend and someone I trust. So, I treat you as I would someone close to me. I guess I don't realize how different I must look," Kin admits and bows her head, "I am sorry, Xander." The first bit of her kimono she pulls on is a simple, white, thigh-length 'coat' with short sleeves. The front section is in two panels which she overlaps. Draped over each hip are a set of ties that supposedly hold the panels closed. "The ties on my hips just need to be secured with a simple bow knot. It keeps the panels from coming open," she explains while holding the 'coat' closed.
"Not creepy!" Xander says, holding his hands up and shaking them back and forth. "Very sexy! That's the problem… I keep thinking inappropriate thoughts… "
"Inappropriate?" Umeko asks as she moves herself closer so Xander doesn't have to get up from his seat to reach the ties. She turns away from him so he can easily each both sides of her hips. From the back the other purpose of the undergarment becomes clear, down the spine of the back is a slightly thicker layer of fabric, probably to keep her horns from damaging the more intricate outer garment.
"Well, you know," Xander says, and fiddles with the ties, hoping bow-knots are good enough. "Stuff that… uh… maybe it's only mammals that have them… "
"Oh, you mean sharing a physical union with the other person," Umeko reasons out after a moment of thought, "Where body and soul entwine as one and light fires of passion. It … well, admittedly is not as common amongst my people as it is yours, I imagine." She checks the ties, then dips her head, nothing, "Very well done."
"Well, the passion part at least," Xander admits, folding his blushing ears back.
Kin lifts up the blue kimono and slides it lightly onto her arms. It settles down on her shoulders where she adjusts it a bit. "You … think that way of me?" she asks, sparing Xander the uncomfortableness of her actually looking at him when she asks.
"Would you think poorer of me if I said 'yes' to that?" Xander asks.
"I wouldn't think any less of you one way or another," Umeko tells the Lapi as she shifts around so her back is to him again. Like the undercoat, this one too has a few ties on the sides.
Xander ties the ties, and ponders that comment. "So you mean you don't really care?" he asks.
Kin turns around and kneels down in front of Xander so she can look up at him; perhaps to make herself appear less intimidating. "It means," Umeko tries to explain, "That however you feel about me will not make you any less of a friend in my eyes." She looks up and directly into Xander's eyes, adding, "You really don't know what you are to me, do you?"
"A confidant?" Xander guesses, his eyebrows raised.
"More than that; a dear friend. Someone I can trust to be honest with me," Umeko answers as one of her delicate hands comes up and rests lightly on the Lapi's knee. "You wouldn't turn away when I was angry and upset after that battle with Hakuu's maidens; nor would you back down from what you believed was the truth even though I could tell you were … afraid of how I might react. Before that you made me feel welcome in a land alien to me. You never made me feel like I was 'odd'. And even here, you have been trying to make me not dwell on what may come. You have a good heart and I trust you. I am sorry I am not very good at expressing how I feel, but I hope you understand you mean a lot to me."
The Lapi smiles, and says, "Thanks Kin. I'm glad I've made a difference. But tell me… the other night, did Anisa use me as a plush toy?"
"No. She was worried about you," Umeko answers honestly. "As much as you two seem to fight … she was afraid that you would get hurt if you stayed. It scared her. She was … trying to hold onto you, I think."
Xander nods. "Part of the reason I've been giving you advice is that I understand the position you're in: over your head but having people look to you for guidance. As a Mage, I'm expected to be wise and experienced and all that too, but obviously I can't be at my age. But it's expected. You're a noble, so you must be a natural leader, wise and charismatic and so forth."
"The legacy of birth does not grant such gifts naturally; though I wish it were so. It would make things easier. And not only are nobles expected to be what you say, but for Kiriga, it is also expected that you will be equal, or better, to your ancestors. If you go back far enough in my family, there have been many great leaders and warriors. Even my father is a good man, wise, and tries to protect the family. And in truth, I have always been a disappointment to him," Umeko admits.
"Well, you're going to be governor of the Empire's newest province," Xander notes. "Or… oldest… recovered province… something like that. Or would that upset your father too, because it isn't what he wanted for you?"
"To be honest, I don't know. Part of me hopes … that this will ensure the family fortunes for decades to come. That is what he had hoped for with the union between me and the Artist Hakuu. But instead I found my own path … and I don't know how he will see it. He does not … he is worse than I am about concealing what he feels," Umeko explains. "He always stands tall and strong in his crimson scales and ebon mane. Impassive; like a mountain. Maybe he had hoped that by marrying me to him that I would not only improve the family status but that being taught to 'behave' more would keep me safe from a world that would do me harm. As much as he could anger me with his expectations … I love him, Xander. I want him to be proud of me."
"He's the image of a nobleman then," Xander notes. "Inspiring others is part of that. You inspire people too, Kin."
"I don't know about that. Who have I inspired?" Kin asks.
"Me, Lilac, maybe even Master Tooth," Xander points out. "And probably Anisa and Long Shadow too."
The Kiriga blinks and her head tilts. "I've inspired you? I can understand Lilac because she seeks more stories to tell, but you?" she says. "And Anisa? She is stronger than I am."
"Anisa is physically strong, yeah, but still doesn't think of herself as a 'grown up' yet," Xander points out. "And I'm a sucker for romantic quests of honor against impossible odds… and it wouldn't be romantic with your inspiration! And Lilac! Well, Lilac adores you."
"And I may have lead Lilac to her death," Umeko admits with a quiet sigh, "But everyone must walk the path they feel is right."
"Still, she'd be lost without you," Xander notes, raising a finger and tapping the tip of Kin's snout. "She looks to you for direction. It's nobility, and you can't avoid it."
"The direction shift as new pieces fall into place. I cannot yet see the picture that will eventually form," Umeko admits, "All I can do is piece it together as it comes."
"Well, that's all anyone can do, and I'll help you," Xander notes, sitting back. "I'm good at puzzles! Except word ones, or math ones, or riddles… but the ones where you fit pieces together to make a picture I can do, no problem!"
Kin actually practically slithers up and into Xander's lap. Her back arches and bends as she comes face to face with the Lapi, her hands holding her upright on his knees, her chest against his. "And you are good at avoiding the question I asked earlier," she says, now looking the Lapi in the eyes.
"Eep?" Xander squeaks. "Wh-which question?"
"The one about passion and me," Umeko prompts, "But in truth, I think I already know so I will not pressure you to answer." She twists to the side and slips off Xander's Lapi and now instead sits next to him. She then lifts up the obi and notes, "Last piece. This is a bit of a pain to do."
Xander swallows hard, and looks at the obi. "I'm amazed you manage to procreate at all with all these complicated clothes," he jokes.
With a sidelong glance to the Lapi, Umeko explains, "Unwrapping a gift can bring as much joy as finally holding it. The taste of anticipation as the jewel beneath unfolds, or so I have been told. You will have to tell me some day if it is true." She stands back up and stretches the obi out, then starts it at the center of her midsection and draws it back, then back around again. "You will need to pull the two ends as best you can to draw it tight. The bow itself is complex and I will explain it in a moment. The purpose of being tight is to show the curve of my form. Without it, a robe just hides."
"Ah, it's like a corset!" Xander realizes. "I'm familiar with those!"
"You are? but you do not have the hips for one," Umeko observes.
"Oh, not for myself," Xander says. "But I've known women who use them," he explains. "I think the idea is to make sure that women can't draw in a full breath, so that they won't argue with you for as long, or something."
"Well, an obi shouldn't be that tight," Umeko notes as she starts the process of explaining just how the nearly twelve foot long band of cloth is wrapped, folded, then tied at the small of her back in a flaring bow. The bow itself takes several attempts for Xander to get right; but Umeko is quite patient with him as he works.
Xander finishes fluffing out the bow a bit. "Gallisian ladies wear bustles. Makes them look like they're smuggling Vykarin under their dresses," he notes.
"Is that a suggestion of how you would like to see me dress?" Umeko asks as she cranes her head over her shoulder to look to the Lapi.
"First Ones, no!" Xander says. "Those women look like grounded airships in a parade! You look just right the way you dress and undress already."
"Still, should we ever make it back to the sky city, I should consider getting some clothes to 'fit in'," Kin notes as she looks at herself in a nearby mirror. "There, I think I look presentable enough to have a meeting with the General."
"And then we can go carousing on the town, Lapi-style!" Xander promises.
"What is carousing, Lapi style?" Umeko can't help but ask as she starts combing out her mane a bit.
"I've no idea, but I'm sure Anisa does," Xander claims, smiling goofily.
"And don't think you're getting out of taking me dancing," the Kiriga adds. She pauses to look in the mirror for a bit, then asks, "Does my mane look better tied up, or loose?"
Xander ponders, tilting his head back and forth. "I think it depends on the impression you want to make. Tied up in your bun is more traditional and feminine, but you may not want that with the general. Loose suggests you recognize tradition, but are willing to get your hands dirty."
"I'd go with the less demure option, and leave your hair down," the Lapi concludes.
"Loose, then," Umeko agrees. "And I guess I shouldn't keep delaying. I need to learn how many men the General has under his command, plus prepare a speech to give to the soldiers. As Governess, I think that would be expected."
"I also need to decide what rolls all of you will play under my rule, such as it is," Umeko realizes.
Xander hmms. "Ask the General first. He may not want his soldiers thinking about politics during battle."
"I have no intention of discussing politics with them. I intend to inspire," Umeko notes.
"Oh, in that case… " Xander says, and grins mischievously. "You could polish up and just wear your governor sash. That would inspire them! Maybe not to battle, but it would certainly inspire them."
"Is that an attempt to get some time to polish my scales, Xander?" Umeko asks and arches her brow ridge a bit.
"Not particularly," Xander notes. "And besides, you already asked me to before you snuck into the Beshret's camp. I was just trying to make a jestful innuendo about how attractive you are… "
"And here I was thinking you were indirectly requesting to be part of a … what is it called? The Khatta do it. Ah, yes … a harem belonging to an attractive woman" Umeko says in complete deadpan. "But then I don't suppose that would interest you."
"Wait, Jadaian women have harems?" Xander asks, looking completely surprised. "That sounds… would I have to marry you though? Back home, men who were part of harems were also eunuchs… "
Umeko laughs. "No, we don't. I am teasing you, Xander. I would never ask you to become a eunuch, either," she tells the Lapi. "And I somehow do not believe you wish to be married."
"Eventually I do," Xander notes. "Once I'm out of debt to the Guild. I'm certainly not going to take as long as my cousin did in settling down though! Assuming, of course, I don't get blown up or killed in battle. Rule two of military tactics: after you take out the air support, go for the mages."
"You do not need to worry there. They have to go through me first," Umeko says and pats Xander's shoulder. "Now, let us go find Anisa and Gibson. They may wish to sit in the meeting with the General."
Xander stands up, and wiggles his fingers to loosen them after all that knot tying. "Sounds good. And I really should say hello to the other fire mage aboard, so he doesn't start thinking of ways to kill me."
As Umeko opens the door and heads out, she says, "I also recommend you may not want to look too appetizing, either. Remember, Naga eat live meals." Again with the deadpan tone. Though … with the way the corners of her eyes twitch … the Kiriga is likely just teasing again. "Now come on. There is still much left to do; though I am thankful for this respite. I fear it will be exciting again soon enough."