It's night in Storm-Hand's village. Roho can tell, because of all those subtle clues in the changes in the sounds of the creatures, and because supper was just a bit ago. And he can tell it's Storm-Hand's village, because one of his translator friends was nice enough to TELL him that. The trouble is, they haven't been around for a while.
There was some noise earlier. It sounded like some screaming, and then some loud drums and rattles. But it died off, and nobody has told Roho what is up. Namely because nobody here can talk.
Roho sits on one of the sky platforms, feet dangling over the railing… If Zoltan or Envoy don't come back soon, I'm putting larnweed in their tea.
Azhtar sits next to Roho. He can tell, because she just doesn't quite smell like the villagers here. Also, her attire is quite different. (For one thing, there's more of it.) Her tail thrashes about a bit, suggesting agitation, frustration … and various other tail-thrashing emotions.
Azhtar tries signing to Roho something … but it doesn't really matter, as she quickly realizes, because he can't SEE her sign at him. She lets out a loud sigh, and slaps her hands down against her lap, shoulders slumping. *thrapthrap* Her tail flicks again in an annoyed gesture.
Roho sighs, "I know, it's frustrating." He pats Azhtar's shoulder, then hangs on to the railing, kicking his feet in the air, thinking…
Roho turns to Azhtar, "You were with us from Rephidim… you understand common, even if you can't speak it, right?"
Azhtar nods. Then blinks at herself. She reaches over and holds Roho's muzzle and bobs it up and down to make his head go "yes".
Roho chuckles at the head motion… then blinks, as an idea hits. "So, you can understand me… and I can hear other noises. I need to know what's going on. May I ask you some questions, and you do something to let me know if I'm right or wrong?"
Up and down goes Roho's muzzle again, at Azhtar's direction.
Roho chuckles, "Okay, that's the first thing that needs to go, or I'll be seasick by dawn. How about you click your paw on the platform once for yes, twice for no… "
There is some shuffling around, and Azhtar gets up and walks off a few paces … then comes back and sits down. *WHOCK* She must have gotten a short stick to pop the wood with.
Roho smiles, "Great! Okay… has Zoltan left the village?"
Roho rasps, "Okay, where did th… did they go to the Freedom's Dream?"
There's a long pause. Then … *whockwhockwhock*
Roho rasps, "Three taps… I don't know?"
Roho rasps, "Is Envoy gone too?"
Roho mutters… "Does anyone know where they are?"
Long pause. *whock*
Roho rasps, "In the village?"
Another pause. *whockwhock* *whockwhockwhock* … then a rapid, frustrated *whockwhockwhockwhockwhock*
Then another sigh and slump.
Roho sighs, "So, nobody in the village knows where they are."
Roho rasps, "Zoltan wanted to return to the City of Hands… could they have gone there?"
Long pause, then a very light whock.
Roho rasps, "Could you take me to the City of Hands? Or could someone else here?"
Azhtar ponders, then … *whockwhock* *whockwhockwhock*
Azhtar sighs and reaches over to pat Roho on the shoulder, trying to be comforting … though it's just as much to comfort herself.
Roho sighs and squeezes Azhtar's paw, "Okay, I guess there's not much else I can ask… thanks… "
Envoy walks out of the jungle, and looks around. She signs to the nearest Savanite, "Where is Zoltan, the big Vartan?"
The Savanite just gives Envoy an "I don't know" gesture, and looks eager to move along. Not terribly helpful.
Envoy looks around until she spies Azhtar and Roho.
Azhtar notices a winged white figure below and taps on Roho's shoulder and … points. She frowns, slaps herself on the forehead, then just pushes Roho's shoulders in a "stay here" gesture, and clambers up to a standing position, waving her hand vigorously back and forth to catch Envoy's attention.
Roho blinks, and sits where he is, "What now?"
Envoy flies up to Azhtar. "Hello Azhtar, Roho. Do either of you know where Zoltan is?"
Azhtar grabs the stick, and whacks three times on the wood. Then she grimaces, tosses down the stick, and signs, "He flew away."
Roho turns, "Hi Envoy. No I don't." … *BING* "Envoy!" He scrambles to his feet.
Azhtar elaborates, signing, "We were going mad! We can barely communicate with each other! I am so glad you came back!"
Envoy blinks at the excited fennec.
Roho walks over to Envoy, "If you guys ever leave me alone in a village of mute cheetahs again, I will lose any sanity I have left."
Envoy blinks again. "How much is that, Roho?"
Azhtar frowns, and signs, "And if you ever leave me in a village of blind fennecs … " She just shakes her head and waves her hands in a "nevermind" gesture.
Roho grins lopsidedly, "Not much, I think… "
Azhtar signs, "Jezebel came to the village, accompanied by … a Mage-Priest! She claimed the Twelve-Times-Twelve are free! Is that true?"
Envoy nods, "Yes, they have hidden the city with magic. One of them also accompanies Kaela."
Azhtar signs, "You might want to start repeating my signs again, Envoy. The doctor wouldn't understand my signs even if he could see me."
Azhtar frowns, then signs, "Or is that a good idea?"
Envoy nods, and turns on her Azhtar voice to echo the cheetah's signs.
Roho rasps, "Envoy, where were you?"
Envoy signs to Azhtar, silently, "The doctor has nothing to lose or gain by knowing these things."
Envoy says, "I went after Kaela, who entered the City of Hands alone."
Azhtar sighs, pondering all the implications of this shredded facade of 'secrecy', then signs, "Events took a strange turn. The best I can make out is that Zoltan brought a black Khatta into the village. And the warriors brought another one. The warriors claimed they were Devil-Khatta, summoned by Jezebel, and they started a bonfire, to roast them all alive. But Zoltan freed them, and flew away with Jezebel and one of the black Khatta, leaving the other, who disappeared."
Envoy says, "One of those must have been Janus. Was the one with Jezebel a Mage?"
Azhtar shakes her head. "I do not know. After this had all happened, the Mage-Priest was upset when he heard about it, and left, along with the two males who came with him. They were both dressed in black, and must be Jezebel's lackeys."
Envoy says, "The Mage-Priests are trying to determine whom to follow, if anyone. They have assigned a Mage to both Kaela and Jezebel, to evaluate them for a year."
Roho mutters something under his breath and goes back to where he was sitting.
Azhtar looks to Roho, then signs back to Envoy, "They do not know how to choose? Is it that hard of a decision? Jezebel is a manipulator! Surely they can see that. … In the meantime, I must confess, I do not feel very safe here anymore. These people … I just don't feel safe."
Envoy continues echoing Azhtar's signs to Roho. "Such decisions should never be made in haste. Kaela and her Mage wish to return to Rephidim as slaves. I need the crystal hands that Zoltan brought here."
Azhtar shakes her head, signing, "I had hoped … that somehow this would be all over with the Twelve-Times-Twelve being freed. Jezebel would be revealed as a power-hungry monster, and be … be … out of the way. And we could stay here, safe. Or… " She shakes her head again, then signs, "Of course. The hands. He certainly didn't have time to take them with him. I will fetch them … except … I'm not strong enough to carry them all. They're heavy."
Envoy looks at Roho. "Can you carry some of the hands for me, Roho?"
Azhtar walks over to Roho, and signs, "Should we take Roho, too? Surely Storm-Hand can get well on her own. If you leave, I don't know if he could stand being left with me and the villagers."
Roho nods at Envoy, "Of course… "
Envoy says, "I think it would be best if Roho comes with us then."
Roho nods emphatically! "Yes, definitely best!"
Azhtar nods, and heads off to locate the crystal hands … and other supplies.
Envoy takes Roho's hand, and guides him down to the central clearing. "How have you been, aside from frustrated, Master Roho?"
Roho smiles, "Very well, really… they treat me kindly, the food is good. I just… can't talk to them."
Envoy says, "Is there a method of writing that you can read by touch?"
Roho nods, "Yes… it's a language of raised bumps and lines… "
Envoy hmms, "I don't think we will be able to teach it to the Savanites quickly then."
Roho shakes his head, "It wouldn't be worth it, anyways… The Freedom's Dream will be back eventually… "
Envoy says, "Yes. I hope they provide some of us transport back to Rephidim."
Azhtar struggles out into the clearing, under a heavy load of a big backpack, some bags, a dangling lantern (lit), a rope slung around her shoulders … If she trips, she's in big trouble.
Envoy helps Azhtar set down some of the supplies without tipping over…
Azhtar almost collapses, panting, as she reaches Envoy and Roho. Her hands are still full, so she hasn't anything to "say".
Envoy begins sorting the supplies into easier to carry bundles. "How much can you carry in a pack, Roho?"
Roho scratches his chin, "I don't know, offhand. Keep loading me, and I'll tell you when to stop."
Azhtar frees up her hands enough to sign, "Hopefully if I could carry all of this … this far … a third of it wouldn't be so bad… " She pauses, considering just how far it might be … through the jungle. "I hope not, at least."
Envoy sets the lamp and rope aside for Azhtar to carry, and transfers some of the crystal hands into a pack for Roho.
Envoy says, "You are not as used to carrying heavy things, are you, Azhtar?"
Azhtar shakes her head, looking down slightly.
Envoy finishes packing a lighter load for Azhtar, "Try this."
Azhtar nods and shoulders it as best she can.
Envoy hands another pack to Roho, "Is this too heavy?"
Azhtar looks around, worriedly. She signs, entirely in Rephidim Standard "phonic", "They do not seem to be paying much notice to us. I hope they will not object if we leave. They shouldn't … but part of me worries. I will be glad to be far from here."
Roho gives the pack a few hefts… "That's fine."
Envoy blinks at Azhtar, "You think the City of Hands will be more comfortable? Perhaps you can stay there with the Mages, if you like. It may be possible to disguise you enough that you could return to Rephidim, also."
Envoy shoulders the third pack, with the bulk of the crystal hands in it. It's the heaviest, but not because Envoy is stronger than the others. She can simply ignore the discomfort.
Azhtar gulps, pondering the options. "Let us be off," she signs in the same, wide, 'phonic' motions, which come a bit more awkwardly for her. "I will ponder my options when we get there." Of course, there's bound to be plenty of time to think on the way, as well…
Envoy takes Roho's hand, and begins to lead the two into the jungle.
Roho smiles, "I can follow you by sound and smell, Envoy, if that's easier for you… "
Envoy says, "Alright. Will you be able to find your way back alone if you had to, Roho?"
Roho nods, "I can follow my own backtrail, if need be."
The threesome make their way, leaving the tight ring of trees that house Storm-Hand's village, there soon being no sign for them save for the lantern held by a timid Azhtar that becomes a point of light bobbing along and frequently blinking out, then gone from sight entirely. Storm-Hand watches from her hut, sighing audibly, as she watches the strangers leave, and ponders over just who these people are, what their motives are … and what shall be done, now that her eldest and youngest sisters are in the City of Hands with over a hundred mage-priests of old. No, things will never quite be the same.