Midsummer 7, 6107 RTR (Dec 19, 2006) Olivia gathers her allies and launches a plan to rescue her boyfriend.
(Amelia) (Gunther) (Madame Natasha) (Olivia) (Stonebarrow) (Sylvania) (Zahnrad)
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    Gypsy Camp
    Just across the Milk Run Bridge from Stonebarrow, this flat, clear area has been set aside for travelers and merchants. Two freshwater wells are on site, along with a large map of the area and some bathroom facilities next to the swamp (where nobody will notice the smell). Currently, the area is temporary home to the Shadows Walk gypsy tribe. There colorful wagons are more or less centered on a central bonfire pit, and various lines run between the tops of the wagons to dry clothes or hang blankets to create larger private areas. The smell of various types of cooking keeps the odor of the swamp at bay.

It's a mad dash to the gypsy camp, but thankfully Olivia isn't accosted on her trip. Well, that is at least until she reaches the camp. The poor Skeek is once again accosted by Liliana. Liliana swoops down, grabs Olivia, and spins her around! "I gets to see ya two times in a day! Dis must be a sign! So, I been t'inking vou, Djivan, Morgan, Miranda an I coul' go on one beeg … dou … no, not double, no sure vhat to call it. Vho cares? One big date! We kin have lots of fun together, no?" the Eeee says, not letting Olivia get a word in edgewise.

Olivia, who is out of breath from running all the way back to the camp, can't really answer any of this for the moment. However, she knows exactly what the Eee is referring to and ducks her head in embarrassment. "I, er, uh… " is all she can stammer, until she finally gets her thoughts back in order and blurts out, "There's no time for that right now, Lili! Djivan's been kidnapped!"

"Hmph, vou know, if vou didn't vant to go, vou coul' just say so. Makin' up a story like dat is kinna insulting," Liliana complains. She releases the Skeek and puts her hands on her hips.

Olivia takes a few more deep breaths and tries to calm her hammering heart. "No, I'm not kidding, Lili!" she says earnestly. "Remember those strange Skreeks you saw hanging around his wagon? They're thugs in the employ of his father. He wants Djivan to do something for him but Djivan's not having any of it, so his father just had him taken! And if I hadn't been careful just a minute ago, they would've got me, too!"

The Eee's eyes widen a bit. "Vou no kiddin," she admits, "Dey his father's? Geh, vell, dat figures. He alvays vas a loser, dat one. I guess if dey vant something from him. Dey no hurt him, I hope. Any idea vhere dey are?"

Olivia takes her flowered hat off for a moment and runs one hand distractedly through her hair. "The last time I saw the hired muscle, they were trying to swim their way out of the swamp. But his father is here, too, in the clearing where I saw your tribe for the first time. I don't know if he's still there or not, though. As to where they've taken Djivan, I have no idea. I think we're going to need some help with that. I was on my way to see Natasha, actually. She'll need to know about this."

Liliana rubs her chin. "I don' get it. His father didn' want anything to do wit' him. Vhat going on now? Dis is a bit strange," she mutters. "Natasha shoul' be in her vagon. saw her an hour or so ago. I t'ink I go have a talk wit dis jerk. De rat is me best frien'. No about to have somethin' happen to him!"

Olivia gasps a little at this and takes hold of the Eee's arm. "Um, I don't know if that's such a good idea," she says nervously. "He's just taken Djivan to goodness-knows-where, I don't want him doing anything to you, too! Besides, I may need you to walk with me back into town to find Amelia. His father sent those thugs after me in the swamp because he wants to use me as an 'incentive' to get Djivan to do as he says. So I think I'm going to need protection for a while."

"An vou pick an Eee fer protection? Ooo, I so fierce and stuff!" Liliana says agitatedly. "Still, I guess vou prolly right. I just, geh. He better no have hurt him, or I gonna hurt him … slowly. Jus' hurry an ve kin go find Amelia."

Olivia smiles at her friend and says, "Oh yes, you sound just so fragile to me, Miss I'm-Gonna-Hurt-That-Guy-Slowly. Anyway, let's go fill Natasha in on what's happening. As you say, the sooner we do, the sooner we can get Amelia's help and track down Djivan's rotten father!"

"Vou go t' Natasha. I gonna look around Djivan's vagon fer any clues about vhere dey came from," Liliana says and nudges Olivia towards Natasha's wagon.

Olivia starts to walk in that direction, but calls back to Liliana over her shoulder, "All right, but don't you dare go off on your own after him, or I'm gonna hurt you!" Then she runs off to find the Khatta.

    Madame Natasha's Wagon
    Dark. Very, very dark. The Khatta seems to prefer to keep the lights low in her somber wagon. The walls are draped in black fabric with arcane silvery symbols. In the center of the wagon sits a round table that's about enough to seat three people around it. In the center of the table rests a crystal ball. A few feet behind the table hangs another sheet of dark fabric, presumably for keeping her bedding and personal items away from prying eyes.

Natasha is indeed home. She's reclining slightly in a chair and reading a book. Her eyes flick and peer over the top of her book, noticing Olivia. "Ah, Miss Weaver," she says, "What brings you visiting me today? You look … frustrated."

Olivia closes the door of the wagon behind her and pulls up another chair for herself so she can sit across from the Khatta. "Yeah, I am pretty frustrated… and worried, and upset, and-" Realizing that her rambling is getting her nowhere, she stops, takes a deep breath, and tries again. "Djivan's in trouble. His good-for-nothing father had him kidnapped. I just saw him in the clearing where I first saw your tribe. He was dressed in clothes like Djivan's, hoping to lure me into a trap so he could get me, too."

Natasha closes her book and sets it down on the table. "I see," the Khatta remarks calmly as she sits upright. "Do you know where they are? I do not tolerate people bothering my tribe."

Olivia nods curtly. "I thought you would need to be told of this. Anyway, I don't know where he's keeping Djivan – not yet. Liliana is going through the things in Djivan's wagon right now, to see if there's any clue as to where they took him. If that doesn't get us anywhere… well, I have another idea of how to find out, but I don't think anyone's going to like it."

"As Djivan would say, place your hand on the table. What are you thinking?" Natasha asks as she gets up and pulls on her robes and boots.

Olivia pauses for just a second, then replies, "I'd like to ask Amelia to have her friends Nene and Bebe track me for a while. Then I'll just let myself get kidnapped, too, and the otters can follow us to wherever his father and those hired thugs of his are hiding. After that, it would be up to you and Amelia to effect a rescue."

The Khatta's brow furrows at that. "That would be dangerous," she says quietly, "But it is not without reasoning. They key, I suppose, would be to be sure they didn't have ahold of you long. I remember the two otters you speak of. They were competent for being as young as they are." She sighs as she collects her staff as well. "It would also provide me time to prepare a few things. I think I know of a few ways to scare them into not bothering anyone here again," she adds.

Olivia's expression grows serious, too, but she says, "I know it will be dangerous. I don't know what they've done to Djivan already, and I don't know how cruel they might be to me, either. But I'm willing to try this, if there's just a chance that it will get Djivan out of his father's hands and back to safety. I-" Here she falters, then resumes in a lower voice, "I just hope Djivan's okay."

"If Djivan's father needs him for something then he should be fine," Natasha says, trying to reassure the Skeek. "Djivan can generally take care of himself, do not worry on what may happen, worry on what you must do now. You must focus," she adds, then smiles to Olivia.

Olivia's spirits lift a little at the Khatta's reassurances. "You're right, I have to stay focused." Then she rises from her own chair. "So I suppose we'd better go and see if Lili's found anything in Djivan's wagon. Then we can work from there."

Natasha nods as the two exit the wagon and head over to Djivan's. Liliana is there looking … uncharacteristically pissed off. "No a Dagh-blasted t'ing here," she growls and waves to the ground. "Jus some crappy footprints. No other clues."

"Vell, I suppose dat answers dat question," Natasha notes as she shifts into her accent. "Looks like ve must rely on vour plan if ve vish to end dis quickly."

Seeing Lili raise an eyebrow at her at the mention of a 'plan,' Olivia quickly fills the Eee in on just what she wants to ask Amelia once they get into town. "I know it's not the safest idea, but it's the best one I could think of, especially if we want to find Djivan anytime soon," she explains. "Are you still willing to walk back with me? Natasha is coming, too, but I think I could use the extra moral support!"

"Oh, vou better believe I be coming. Ratbutt is m' friend an aside from vanting to see him safe, he gonna get it for letting himself get caught. He shoul' know better," Liliana snorts. "So, know vhere Amelia is?"

Olivia shakes her head. "Nope, but I intend to go straight to the Mint Dam and ask Zahnrad. If anyone knows, he would. Or the two of them could be visiting each other already – it's possible!"

"Righ' let go then!" Liliana says and marches off. Natasha just looks skyward briefly and follows along.


    Inside the Kettenrad Workshop
    The inside isn't any more normal by any stretch of the means. Gearing and axles crank and groan throughout the workshop. All are powered by a large central gear linkage connected to a feeder axle on one of the waterwheels. Aside from just the general din of the gears, odd puffs and hisses can be heard as seemingly random intervals as one of Zahn's latest grand inventions is probably finding its way to a grand parts pile as it rattles itself into oblivion. Belts also crisscross throughout the rafters, transferring power from one side of the shop to the other. Still, all things given, the workshop is in relatively decent order. No unruly piles of paper stacked in corners or puddles of goo to step in. In the corner sits a desk and drafting table, which currently has a small stack of detailed plans for some sort of new flying machine.

The trip was hurried. Liliana insisted on walking as fast as they all could manage. All the way there she muttered to herself too. Natasha spent the time being mostly quiet. She seemed more lost in thought than anything; probably planning out her spells. But at long last the group reaches the dam. It's now early evening. The door is open and inside sitting at a table are Zahn and … Amelia! It looks like they've just finished dinner and they're making all sorts of cute eyes at each other.

Olivia cringes at the thought of having to interrupt her friends just as they seem to be having a romantic moment, but she steels herself and knocks loudly on the open door, anyway, just so Amy and Zahn know they have company. "Hello in there!" she calls, just for good measure. "Sorry to barge in like this, but I could really use your help."

Amy turns angrily to the door, until she sees it's Olivia. Then her expression turns to one of sheer dread! "Olivia! Help? Is there something wrong with my dress?!"

Zahnrad looks up and away from Amelia. Spotting the odd gaggle of people standing outside of his door, he facepalms. "Why, why, why?" he mutters, shaking his head. "Why can I not enjoy a night with Amelia without some sort of disaster coming to my door?"

Olivia smiles at Amelia reassuringly, then turns to poke her tongue out at Zahn. "Good to see you, too, Little Ray of Sunshine!" she retorts. Then, looking back at Amy, she replies, "No, nothing is wrong with your dress. I need help with something else! May we come in?"

"Sure! Bring the whole town while you're at it!" Zahnrad grumbles.

"Natasha?" Amy asks as she spots the Khatta. "Okay, I guess this is something really really bad then?"

"Hopefully nothing dat can't be resolved quickly," Natasha says as she enters the odd workshop. "Djivan is in trouble and ve have to rescue him. Olivia kin fill you in. I need to prepare some spells. Is dere a quiet place in here?"

Zahnrad points towards a door in the back. "You can use the storage room. It's quiet," he says.

"Uh, Djivan is in trouble?" Amelia asks Olivia. "Rescue? I've got to hear this… "

Olivia ignores the Kadie boy's irritated comment and comes into the room, too. "Well, it's bad for me and the rest of the gypsy tribe," she says, knowing that Djivan is not exactly Amelia's best friend in the whole world. "In short, Djivan's been kidnapped. And the people who took him are trying to get at me, too. We could really use your help in trying to get him back."

"Ol' Ratbutt's father decided t' come visitin' and seems ta vant somet'ing," Liliana says.

"Why would anyone kidnap Djivan though?" Amelia asks. "It's not like they could ransom him off… wait… which father?"

Natasha heads towards the back room. She pauses to pat Zahn's shoulder and whispers to him, "Thank you, Zahnrad. I am sorry for interrupting" Zahn shrugs to her, noting, "S'ok. I'm used to it. Gunther."

Olivia grins at Liliana, then turns back to Amelia to explain. "She means Djivan – that's just her cute, pet name for him. Anyway, Djivan's father wants him to do something for him but Djivan's been refusing. So he had these hired thugs come into the camp and take him! And since it seems like he's still refusing to do what his father wants, those two Skreek idiots are now after me, so that they can use me to convince him otherwise! I mean, they followed me into the swamp, then his father tried to lure me into a trap!"

"You could just let them keep him and stay low until they leave," Zahn suggests.

"You're sure it's Djivan's actual father, and not… like, his father in-law or priest or head of a criminal gang?" Amelia asks for clarification.

"His father is de head of a criminal gang," Liliana notes.

Olivia sighs and says to the Kadie boy, "You know, no matter what you may think of Djivan, I do care about what happens to him. So that's not an option." She is about to reply to Amelia, when Lili's answer stops her short. She stares at the Eee in shock. "What??"

"Ah, well why didn't you say so!" Amelia says, rolling her eyes. "That makes much more sense."

"Yeah, he never tell vou? His father has some company of brigands dat raid caravans an such now and then. Dey try t' play up the noble brigand crud cuz it make de girls swoon. Dat how he got Djivan's mother years ago. Course, vhen she got pregnant, he dropped her and took off. He a real jerk, from vhat his mother an he tol' me over the years," Liliana explains. "Djivan vant nothing t' do vith him."

Olivia tries to process this new information. After a minute, she says quietly, "Well, this certainly ups the ante on the plan I thought of to get Djivan back!"

"Do you know what he looks like?" Amy asks Liliana. "Anything like Djivan?"

"His mom sai' he look a lot like Djivan, just a bit rougher," Liliana says.

Olivia nods at this. "I briefly saw his father in that clearing where I first met the gypsies. He does look a lot like Djivan – same height and fur coloring. Just older, of course."

"Okay then, I'll assume the reason he wants Djivan is as a stand in for something," Amelia reasons. "Why else go through the trouble to get him specifically? Now, how big is this troupe of brigands?"

"Don' know! Dis vas vears ago. Vho knows how big, or small, dey are now," Liliana says with a shrug. "I t'ink it vas like ten way back den."

"And all I know is that he has two big Skreek guards with him now," Olivia adds. "I don't know how many more might be hiding out around here."

Amelia rubs her chin in thought. "Well, a group that big would be hard to hide. You've seen the father, and two goons – that's three. How many took Djivan?"

"Don' know! No one vas aroun vhen he vas grabbed," Liliana points out. "I be guessin' it prolly just those two, though. Dere veren't dat many distinct footprints aroun' his vagon."

The Kadie's tail flicks, and she looks at Liliana. "You used to date him, Lili. If he were tied up, would he be able to get loose?"

"Were you thinking of going around looking for them?" Olivia asks Amelia. "That could take some time, if there are only three of them hiding out in the woods or swamp around the town."

"No if I tied him up," Liliana says with a grin. "Someone else? Prolly. Unless dey be clever wit knots he kin undo most any of em."

"Okay then," Amelia says, and looks to Olivia. "No idea where they'd be. But we have choices now. If it's just those three, then Djivan can probably escape and we just have to be ready to help him. If there are more, or the rat is knocked out or tied up really good, we'll have to go in and get him. You said they were waiting to trap you. Where?"

"Well, his father was dressed up like Djivan and was waiting for me in the clearing outside of town where Gunther first took me to see the tribe," Olivia tells Amy. "But that was a while ago – I have no idea if he's still there now. I went all the way back to camp to tell Natasha about what had happened, then brought everyone here."

"Huh, that's probably where they grabbed Djivan then," Amelia notes. "Just followed him there, and swapped clothes to fool you, assuming they knew you'd be coming in the first place."

Olivia nods in agreement with this assessment. "Djivan was leaving clues out in the open for me to find. They were there to tell me where our next date was going to be, so anyone else could have found them, too. However, I have another suggestion on how to find him… but it's not exactly the sanest idea I've ever had. It could work, though."

"Sane? Since when have we ever bothered with sane?" Zahnrad quips.

"If it works, then it's sane," Amy says. "Let's hear it."

Olivia gives Zahn a brief smile before turning back to Amelia. "Well… if his father really wants to kidnap me, then I say we let him. Let's just have someone tracking me so that you'll be able to find all of us later and get us out. I was thinking that Nene and Bebe could do the tracking and report back to you."

Amy grins. "Wow, you're thinking like a Kadie now! That's crazy enough to work, so long as Gunther isn't stalking the girls already."

"Gunther's working on that otter suit project of his. He's probably too focused to notice," Zahnrad points out.

"Too bad, I could have used him," Amy mutters.

"I could go get him? This is more his territory than mine," Zahn points out.

"How bad does Djivan hate his father?" Amelia asks Lili, before agreeing to bring Gunther-related mayhem to bear.

Olivia, who thought that Amelia was going to yell at her for suggesting such a dangerous plan, actually grins back. "Wow, I get to be an Honorary Kadie for a minute, I'm impressed!" she teases. "Anyway, it'd be up to you and Natasha to get us out of there once the girls give you our location. She did mention that she has an idea of how to scare his father away so that he never bothers Djivan again… "

"A lot, far as I know," Liliana notes. "He flat abandoned dem."

"I hope she does," Amelia says. "They must be pretty tough customers to not have been scared off by his girlfriends already. I'll go get the Scouts and meet you at the mouth of the Mint River. Zahn, go tell Gunther to meet me there too to… repel brigands."

"Uh, you do realize that will likely encourage him to bring weapons," Zahn points out.

"I sure hope so!" Amelia replies to Zahn. "No reason not to let the goons think they're being attacked by an army, after all."

"Ooookay. I'm not fixing anything he breaks," Zahn points out, then slips out the door.

Olivia nods. "And if you don't mind, Amy, I'm going to get something to eat before we leave," she tells the Kadie girl. "Hopefully I won't be captured for too long, but if the rescue actually takes a while, I'd like to be able to keep my strength up. Then I can meet up with everyone."

"Go to it then, we have to wait for Natasha," Amy agrees. "Take Lili with you though, just in case. Oh, and think about seducing Djivan's dad when he captures you. It'll be good practice."

Olivia is about to take Lili with her to the compound's kitchens, but turns back when Amy mentions seducing Djivan's father. "Practice for what?" she asks, eyes narrowed.

"Just practice in general," Amy says, gathering up the leftover bits of dinner. "If he's like Djivan, it could give you an edge. Make him think you'll turn on Djivan for him. He's a brigand, and from what Lili says he would probably believe you."

"I kin give ya seduction tips," Liliana offers, "I kin starts with some kissing lessons… "

Olivia shudders visibly and says to Amelia, "That is the most… just… ew." She then ushers the Eee out the door, grumbling, "And YOU – stop trying to snog me!"

"Vhy no? Amelia liked me snogging her," Liliana says as the two leave. "Trus' me, vou vill like it. I make it fun!"


    Mouth of the Mint River
    Just below the bridge at the eastern edge of town, the Mint River flows into the swamp. This is the industrial area of town, with the tannery nearby and the sewer outlets as well.

It took about half an hour, but Natasha returned from her work with a bemused smile on her face. She would not, however, say what she has prepared. Olivia obtained some food and the odd group headed towards the river mouth. Apparently Gunther was found because he's currently marching back and forth along the shoreline with one of his crossbows resting on his shoulder. His tail twitches wildly and he looks like he wants to jump something.

The otter twins slip out from the shadow of the tannery, and salute smartly. Each is wearing a fish-net harness with a few small tools clipped to it. Amelia whispers to them in a huddle.

For her part, Olivia whispers to Liliana, "I hope Gunther's not going to be so keyed-up that he won't be of any help to us!"

"Isn't he always like dat, tho?" Liliana asks Olivia.

Olivia looks at Gunther critically for a moment, then replies, "Well, he's always hyper, but today he actually looks a little worse than usual!"

Upon spotting the otters, Gunther's pacing immediately stops. His nose twitches slowly, and then he heads towards Amelia and the twins. "I got your message," he says when he gets close, "Just point me at 'em and I'll take care of them." He's actually trying to not appear so wound up at the moment for some reason.

"In due time, Gunther," Amelia says. "You're our secret weapon. When facing an experienced foe, the best tactic is to give them something totally beyond what they're expecting. That's you, because I'm not going to do the flour trick."

"Flour trick?" Gunther has to ask. "What flour trick? Wearing Olivia's hat and running around?"

To the otters, Gunther actually smiles briefly and waves to them.

"Not quite, and never mind just now," Amy tells the boy. To the twins, she asks, "Have your bags of tricks?" The girls grin and pat a few waterproof pouches in their netting, and Bebe brandishes an oversized corkscrew. Nene blows a kiss back at Gunther.

Gunther … actually looks embarrassed and ends up having to look down at the ground to collect himself. "What sort of tricks?" he asks quietly and finally looks back up.

"Okay, now dat is odd behavior fer him," Liliana observes, then grins. "Ooooh, I see. Vell vell."

Olivia smiles herself, then whispers to the Eee, "Yeah, Gunther has a thing for Nene and Bebe, and they seem to like him, too… "

"Right, pull this off smooth, and we'll get to see Natasha's surprise at the end," Amy tells the otters, and winks. The two then scamper off on all fours – Nene towards the woods, and Bebe into the water. "Okay," Amy tells the others. "Go on and get caught, Olivia. We'll wait here for one of the Scouts to tell us where you've been taken."

Olivia takes a deep breath and nods to Amelia. "I'll head back to the clearing outside of town, then," she says. "I don't know if Djivan's father is still there or not, but I figure it's a good place to start trying, anyway!" Then she gives everyone else a smile and, her heart beginning to race, walks back to where she last saw the brigand.

He's still there. Either he has incredible patience or he's just incredibly stubborn. "Blasted girl must be dim if she hasn' figured out his lame clues yet," the man mutters darkly. Once thing's certain, he looks pissed.

Okay, Olivia thinks to herself, time for the act! She then steps right out into the open and starts toward the Skreek, looking pleased to see him. "There you are, Djivan!" she calls, giving him a smile and pretending not to notice that he is NOT the person she's been looking for. "I'm sorry I'm so late, but you would not believe what I had to deal with just to get here!"

"Oh, but I t'ink I do," comes the gruff voice, which is most definitely not Djivan. "Bou' time vou go' here. Now, vou better go quietly, or else." The Skreek turns around and pulls out a small crossbow from where he had it tucked into the front of his sash. "It be an irritating day an me mood is in me trigger finger, gottit?"

Olivia stops dead in her tracks and stares at the older Skreek for a minute, eyes wide in feigned shock. "Wait… who are you?" she squeaks in alarm, now starting to back slowly away from him and the crossbow he has pointed at her chest. "And what have you done with Djivan?"

"Name's Alberic. Djivan's m' kid. He be a right pain in de butt. Dis nothin' personal between me an vou, so if vou go quietly, I try t' no hurt vou. Give me problems an I hurt you badly," the Skreek growls and walks towards Olivia. "Dis is about m' future an his, vou understand."

Olivia doesn't run from him, but she keeps trying to put a little distance in between Djivan's father and herself, just to make it look like she's planning some sort of escape. Got to keep him thinking that I want to get away, so he doesn't suspect that anything's amiss, she thinks. "No, I don't understand," she says in a low, frightened voice. "What do you want him for, anyway?"

"Does it matter? Now ve be going north a bit t' my camp. If you run, I shoot yas dead, gottit. Vou vill valk in front of me," Alberic growls.

Olivia stops again and looks quickly around the clearing for a few seconds, as if weighing her options. Then, visibly deciding that she doesn't have a choice now, she lets her shoulders sag and and her head droop. She nods silently and lets Alberic get behind her. "At least tell me if Djivan's all right?" she asks quietly.

"Eh, few bruises an a bloody nose, but he live," Alberic says with a shrug as the two get underway. "Can' risk messing him up too much, afterall. Needs him intact I do. Ol' Grizelda just won go fer a banged up 'Alberic' afterall, heh."

Olivia starts walking in the direction Alberic has indicated, but even though she doesn't expect a straight answer, she can't help but to ask, "Who is Grizelda?"

"Oh, jus' some romance novel lovin' rich lady up north who be hearin' all sorts 'heroic' exploits abou' me. Offered marriage she did inna pen letter down to de taverns. I no vant to marry de spinster, but I kin jus have me son do it, since he look like me. Den I jus' get rid o' dem and I gets all the land, all legal-like since I be de name on de wedding papers, afterall," Alberic explains, strangely enough, as the two walk along through the semi-dense forest.

Olivia's legs suddenly go numb at the Skreek's last words, but she forces herself to keep walking. "You mean – kill the both of them for her lands and money?" she asks, horrified.

"Sure. Who be carin' about some ol' woman an a worth nothin' gypsy, eh? Vell, guess vou, mebbe. Sorry kiddo. I sends ya a few gold fer yer troubles," Alberic says with a short laugh. The walk continues. They probably go about three miles before the campsite comes into view. It's fairly ragtag looking campsite, just a few tents. Judging from the shadows, there are five people in camp. One is probably Djivan, so that leaves four brigands plus his father.

During the rest of the walk to Alberic's campsite, Olivia has remained silent, a cold feeling of fear spreading through her chest – not for herself anymore, but for Djivan. Lili wasn't kidding when she said his father was a jerk, she thinks miserably. Please let the otter twins find this place! Natasha and Amy have got to get him out of here!

Alberic directs Olivia into the largest of the tents. Inside sits one of the two Skreeks Olivia and Silas dealt with earlier. He's sitting cross-legged and glaring at … Djivan. True to Alberic's word he's a little roughed up but nothing too serious. When Djivan sees Olivia, he sinks down and mutters, "Ah, Dagh take it. They found out about 'er." Looking up, he says, "Sorry, Olivia. Didn' vant you gettin' pulled into dis mess."

Alberic snorts. "Vell, dat's just cute. Bruno, keep an eye on dese two, eh? If any gives you trouble, shoot de girl," he instructs, then exits the tent.

Olivia looks at Bruno first, then says quietly, "May I go and sit by Djivan? I promise I won't try to run or anything like that." She fears to make any sudden moves in case the large Skreek decides the wallop Djivan again before he shoots at her.

Bruno grunts at Olivia. Presumably it means 'yes'.

"So, he tell ya vhat is goin on an vhat he vants?" Djivan asks Olivia.

Very carefully, Olivia picks her way around Bruno to sit down beside the gypsy. Looking him over with worried eyes, she reaches out and lightly touches one of the bruises on his face. Then she nods and throws a nervous glance at the large Skreek before saying, "He wants you to marry someone instead of him, so he can get her lands and money."

Djivan snorts a laugh, then winces when a bruise is touched. "Dat all he tol' vou?" he says and shakes his head a bit. "Guess he left out de part dat he mainly needed me to consummate de marriage. Ol' dad had an 'accident' with his last womanly conquest. He kin … vell, you know. No anymore. He be limper den an overcooked noodle. De guards tol' me dat bit vhen dey dragged me here."

Olivia stares at Djivan for a moment, not knowing whether to laugh or cry at this information. "No, he didn't tell me that part," she says, giving the Skreek a small smile. "Perhaps not having an outlet anymore for all of his manly urges is what made him meaner than a stomped-on swamp snake?" she suggests.

"Eh, mebbe. He vas always self-centered accordin' t' mom. Sorry vou had to meet him," Djivan says with a sigh. "I don' exactly like people knowin' I be related to him."

The tent fabric behind Bruno is disturbed for a moment, before a loud, wet raspberry sounds rips out and is followed by a stench that Olivia would normally associated with the tannery, Pretzel, and sick otters. It's enough to bring tears to the eyes.

There's a series of groans and yells all over camp. "Dagh, Bruno!" one calls out, "Did vou eat sumthin;' in dat swamp? Smells like yer butt died. Gah, vorse den bean night. Me eyes burn!"

Olivia has never been more relieved to be a party to an otter prank – although this one is definitely making her sick to her stomach! "Cover your nose and mouth, quick!" she hisses at Djivan in a low voice, which she hopes will be not be heard by Bruno over the racket coming from the camp. "There may be more to come!"

Djivan coughs and winces. "Can't, tied to de pole," he wheezes out, looking ill. "Stuff something in me nose before I die. Or Dagh, shoot me and save me from this stench!"

Covering her own nose with her hand, Olivia uses her other hand to pull a handkerchief out of her overalls pocket and put it over the lower half of Djivan's face. "Better?" she asks him.

As if burning eyes weren't enough, some of the campfires start to billow black smoke, making it even harder to see what's going on.

"Couldn' be any vorse," Djivan admits and looks at least a little less ill. Bruno on the other hand looks like he want s to vomit. He's also trying to fan his backside.

"Great, someone strike a match?" Alberic growls from somewhere in the camp. "With dat stench, it no surprise it turn black, guh. All right, dis is ridiculous. Bruno, yer butt has done a firs', ve gots to move de camp. Vou … vou gets to stay here!"

Olivia, seizing her chance for giving Djivan at least something of an explanation to all this nonsense, she leans in close to him and whispers shortly into his ear, "Part of a rescue. Otters!"

"Heh. I 'tought I recognized de smell of de smoke. Emmett's fishy sauce," Djivan whispers. They don't get much more time to talk though as the camp falls into chaos. Olivia and Djivan are yanked out of the tent and held under guard while the rest are trying to dismantle it quickly. Not an easy feat given no one can see more than three feet in front of them.

Olivia just gives Djivan her handkerchief now that he's free to hold it to his own face. His other hand she clasps in hers, to make sure she doesn't lose him when further hell breaks loose. Then she goes back to covering her own nose and mouth with her free hand.

Time passes while the camp is slowly disassembled around the two. Even with the chaos and difficulty of seeing, there hasn't been any real chance of making a break for it. At least it's allowing time for the others to hopefully get here. Stink and smoke bombs will only work for so long…

"Dis isn't much of a heroic rescue, vou know," Djivan whispers to Olivia.

"Den again, I no much of a damsel in distress, am I?" Djivan says with a small grin to Olivia.

Olivia leans toward the gypsy and mutters back, "Otters don't go for heroic, they just go for whatever will be the most fun for them to pull off, you know that," she chides. "Still, the otters are not the only ones who are lurking around here… "

It takes Liliana a moment, but she's able to give general locations for most in the camp. At her best guess, the two are on the far side of the camp from them, with one guard watching them.

"Okay Gunther," Amelia says to the other Kadie, and points to the nearer end of the camp. "Make a commotion on this side so I can go around to the other side and take out the guard."

"Heheheheh," goes Gunther and he readies his crossbow. In the next few seconds there is a horrific sound of shattering wood and shrill whistling as he unleashes the mechanical crossbow on the mostly-empty side of camp they're on. It sounds like the area just turned into a battlefield, frankly.

Amy sneaks off, keeping low as she circles around to the far side and tries to see where Djivan and Olivia are being held.

"Good Gods," Djivan yelps as Gunther's commotion commences! "Did they bring an army?!"

Olivia jumps at the terrible sound of wood splintering apart somewhere near them, then smiles at Djivan's question. "Even scarier," she whispers to him. "They brought Gunther."

Homing in on the familiar yelp, Amelia heads for Djivan, wary of any motion around her in the smoke. She hopes the otters don't get too caught up in trying to trip people that they trip her by mistake.

Thankfully in the mess of smoke and noise, the last thing the guard sees is a nearly black Kadie sneaking around. So, Amelia as a clear shot at him if she wants to take it. "Bloody hell, we're under attack," growls Alberic from somewhere in camp. "Regroup and ready yourselves, men!"

"Regroup where? We can't see a thing!" comes a reply from within the camp.

Up goes the butt-end of the halberd as it swings towards the back of the guard's skull.

"Shut yer whining, come t' my voice!" Alberic yells.

And down goes the guard into the dirt. thud Attacking an opponent that has no clue you're there is easy.

"Are you okay?" Amy whispers to Olivia as she hurries over, ready to pass a knife to the Skeek.

"I don' t'ink me nose vill ever be de same," Djivan complains when Amelia gets near the two. "Hey, vhere is a knife fer me?"

Olivia immediately whirls around when the guard hits the ground and peers into the smoke. "Amy, thank goodness!" she breathes. Then she sees the knife in her friend's hand and takes it. "We don't need to cut ourselves free, but I'll borrow that for a while for protection, if you don't mind. Just until we get out of here, okay?"

"You have your rapier wit," Amy says to Djivan. "Let's get going. Natasha will be here any moment now and I don't want to miss whatever she has up her sleeves."

"Fine by me!" Olivia says, ready to follow Amy out of the camp.

"I put me foot in yer butt but I don' have time righ now!" Djivan grumbles at Amelia. "Let get out of dis stinkhole." He's obviously ready to follow, too.

"And don't try grabbing and blame the smoke," Amy warns Djivan, and leads out towards the near edge of the camp, where the smoke thins a bit.

"Well, at least I have a hold of one of his hands… " Olivia mutters to Amy, trying hard not to laugh.

"You be so lucky if I grabs you," Djivan growls at Amelia.

The rescue party pulls a bit back from the camp. All of the, that is, except Natasha. She stands there and patiently waits for the smoke to clear. The camp is an absolute mess. The tents are all in various states of disarray and collapse. One of the brigands is out cold and Alberic looks like he wants to kill something.

Alberic spots Natasha and waves a sword towards her. "Vou, that useless gypsy voman who leads dat so-called tribe," the Skreek growls at her. "Dis vour mess? T'ink vou kin keep me away from m' boy? He has obligations to family."

"Vou have said quite enough," Natasha says calmly and coldly. "If you leave now, vou vill leave unscathed. If you chose to stay, vell, I vill take more drastic measures."

"Hah! T'ink I be afraid of some fortune telling voman?" Alberic retorts, "Vour threats no scare me. Dat boy gonna get married in me place one vay or another!"

Hearing this, Olivia tightens her grip on Djivan's hand and scowls darkly. "That's what you think, old son," she mutters to no one in particular. "Give him hell, Natasha."

That comment elicits a smile from Natasha. "Ah, then my choice of measures is most fitting. Vou vish to decide vho marries vho, hmm? Vell, I t'ink I know vho vou should marry," she says darkly and raises her hands. Glowing orbs slide out from the folds in her robes in which they were hidden, "Haven' vou ever heard dat to offend a gypsy is to get cursed?" Her eyes narrow and she chants loudly, "Stories of old, find a new life in dis one. Grant de great monster of Stonebarrow de one thing he has longed for; make dis one into a fitting Frog Princess." The balls of light surge forward and surround the rather stunned Skreek. They swirl blindingly fast, obscuring Alberic from view. Theres a shriek of terror that slowly shifts to a rather disturbing … and high pitched, croaking sound.

"Hah, I knew there was a way to do that," Amy whispers, and nudges Gunther. "This is why you don't spy on Natasha, okay?"

The light grows and grows, then seems to explode. As everyone's eyes clear they're greeted to a rather … unique sight. Before them sits a grotesque frog-like creature with a huge mouth, long reptilian tail, and front arms which practically drag on the ground. It would probably be quite terrifying … if it wasn't for the bright pink lipstick, tiara, and pink bows on its tail.

All Gunther does is go … 'eek'.

Liliana has to blink repeatedly. She even rubs her eyes to try and see if she's hallucinating this. When she discovers she isn't … boy does the Eee start giggling loudly.

Olivia only snerks at first, then lets out a little giggle. Before long, however, she is almost crying with laughter. "Of all the things… I thought Natasha… would do to him," she gasps out, "I never thought… it would be this!"

"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?" the former Alberic croaks out in a ridiculously high pitched voice.

"I… I can't compete with that… " Amy snerks. "I abdicate the crown!"

"Nothing more den cursed vou vith a new form," Natasha says with a bemused smile.

"STOP LAUGHING AT ME!" the creature wails at Amelia. "I AM NOT A PRINCESS!"

"Sure sound like one," Amy retorts.

"Shall I make vou some brides maids, perhaps?" Natasha asks and waves towards the rest of the brigands who are nearly sick with laughter at their 'princessified' boss. "I voul' vorry dat vou might get lonely, but vou have plenty o' tadpoles in no time."

"I DO NOT!" retorts the frog. The tiara on its head wobbles cutely as if it thinks Alberic looks like quite a nice princess. The only thing missing is a cute dress, really.

"TURN ME BACK! I'LL DO ANYTHING YOU WANT! I'LL LEAVE HIM ALONE ALREADY! ALL THIS OVER A WORTHLESS GYPSY, RIBBIT!" the frog wails. "ACK! I … RIBBIT!"

Now that she feels it is safe enough to approach the camp again, Olivia lets go of Djivan's hand and says to him cryptically, "I'll be right back." Then she takes her time in walking over to the Skreek-turned-frog-princess, looking over the ground as she goes. When she draws up almost in front of him, she finds what she has been looking for – a hand-sized, heavy stone. Gripping it tightly in her right hand, she stops in front of Alberic and smirks at him. "Old man… er, frog… well, whatever you are now, I just have to tell you: we are not as dumb as you think we are." With that, the Skeek draws back and with a wicked right hook, punches the thing right in the face with the rock! As she watches him reel backward, she spits out, "And THAT was for wanting to kill your own son just for MONEY!"

"Djivan is worth money dead?" Amy mutters.

"No," Djivan growls to Amelia.

"OW!" goes the frog, who unceremoniously falls backwards on its butt with a disturbingly squishy sound. It holds its lumpy head with its misshapen arms.

Satisfied now, Olivia turns on her heel and marches away from the frog-thing and back over to the others. "Thank you, I feel much better now," she sighs, leaning against Djivan's shoulder.

"Now dat ve all haf shown ve are quite capable, know dis," Natasha says darkly, glaring at the frog, "Djivan is part o' my tribe. Dat make him like a son t' me. Threatening him is threatening me. Threatening me is not wise. Know dis, I vill allow vour form to return, but if vou ever come near him, dis town, or my tribe ever again, de curse will return, permanently. Do vou understand?"

"FINE FINE!" the frog wails, "JUST TURN ME BACK BEFORE I … RIBBIT! sigh"

The Khatta gracefully waves her arm and rolls her fingers. A burst of light flows from her hand about ten seconds later. When it hits the frog it's like a mirror is shattered and the frog princess fades away, leaving a wide eyed Alberic sitting on the ground … with a huge welt forming on his forehead.

"Ve are done here," Natasha says as she turns and walks back to the group. "Let's go home."

"Nene is giving me the high sign that there's still stuff to be looted," Amy notes to Natasha.

"Sounds good to me," Olivia agrees, taking Djivan's hand again. "Anyway, we still have a date to finish, you know," she murmurs to him, smiling.

Alberic and his brigands don't wait around long. They're running as fast as they can away from the group and town. Apparently they don't care about their belongings at this point. Better poor than frog.

Natasha finally laughs, then has to pause and rub her fingers over her eyelids. "I could have done worse … but this is more memorable. Do you understand what I did?" she asks Amelia quietly.

"I t'ink our dates be cursed," Djivan admits to Olivia. "First one gets interrupted by otter. Second by necromancer. Dis by my father. Vhat next, de turnip demons?"

"Umm… you turned him into a frog?" Amelia asks.

The otters start hauling the good stuff, such at is, over to the group, and piling most of it onto Gunther to carry for them.

"Not exactly," Natasha admits with a smile, "I made him think I did. All I really did was make a spiritual construct that I put on him like a glove, you could say. It made him look like a frog, but he really wasn't. It wouldn't last too long, but … he'll remember that for a long time. I doubt he will ever come this way again."

"Hey, why do I have to carry all this junk?" Gunther asks the two otters.

Olivia laughs and gives the gypsy a quick hug. "Hey, at least we'll never forget them as long as we live!" she teases. "Besides, if we didn't have any more dates, then we wouldn't be able to… " Here, the Skeek lowers her voice to whisper something in Djivan's ear. It must be something good, though, for the Skreek starts grinning like a fiend.

"Because you're our big and strong hero," Nene whispers to Gunther, licking his ear.

"Oh, someone's been spending time with Liliana," Djivan teases Olivia, the Skreek grinning rather fiendishly himself.

Amelia ponders the way the trick was done. "But, would he have eaten bugs if we gave him some?"

That might have broken Gunther's brain. His tail sticks straight back, then puffs out to twice his body size.

Olivia laughs and asks Djivan, "So, are you sure you don't want to have any more dates?"

"Yes, he would have," Natasha notes, "Because the construct wrapping him has some basic 'instructions' on how to act and it would have done so. Think if it as a reverse zombie. Spirit on the outside instead of the inside."

"That must be pretty handy," Amelia notes, nodding to herself. She looks at Gunther, and asks him, "So, did you have fun?"

"Just as long as you don' ask me t' be yer frog princess, dere be more," Djivan says with a grin.

"She licked me," Gunther babbles. Apparently Amelia's question didn't completely register.

"Okay then," Amelia says, then turns to grin at Djivan. "And you owe me one now. Or two, really, since you got to see me in just my fur that one time."

"An I'll pay it back by no describing t' Emmett in detail just vhat vou look like naked," Djivan retorts to the Kadie. "C'mere."

Amy leans forward, and says, "He already knows – he taught me how to swim."

Djivan actually hugs Amelia when she gets close. "T'anks for coming," he says. "All of vou."

Bebe piles on Djivan and Olivia, and searches the rat's pockets really quick during the hug.

All the otter finds is one somewhat damp and used sock.

"Ewww," Bebe complains.

Olivia squeaks and then laughs at the otter-hug, but she hugs back fondly. "Yes, thanks to you and your sister for helping us out with the rescue," she tells Bebe. "I could have done without the smell, but at least it was effective!"

"Hey, vou stuck yer hands in dere," Djivan chides, grinning at the otter. "Never pick a pickpocket's pockets."

"Well, let's head back before it gets too dark, or we have to pour a bucket of water on Olivia and Djivan," Amy remarks. Nene tugs on Lili's wing, and shows her something carved from wood she found in Alberic's tent. "What do you suppose he used this for?"

"Uh, I tell vou vhen vou're older," Liliana tells the young otter. Leaning over to Djivan she says, "Vour father vas a pervert an a jerk. Didn't fall far from de tree, eh?" Giggling, she has to dodge a swipe Djivan makes at her … though he is grinning.

Olivia just shrugs and laughs at the by-play between Eee and Skreek, then tugs on Djivan's hand, pulling him in the direction of town. "Well, at least that just makes it all the more fun for me," she says lightly, grinning, too. "Let's go home!"


---

GMed by BoingDragon & Jared

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Today is 20 days after New Year's Day, Year 25 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6124)