24 Oct. Brishen and the Temple Scouts rescue stolen cookies!
(New Character Arrival) (Brishen) (Rephidim Countryside) (Rephidim) (Taliamelle) (Zsofi)
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Countryside
Not all of the sky island of Rephidim is taken up by the city. Even after all these years, the expansion of the city has been contained enough that there is still plenty in the way of wilderness in the surrounding area, largely thanks to the ownership of the bulk of these lands by the various nobles, sometimes used for hunting, or just for personal pleasure, or else considered property of the Temple. Here amongst the trees, there's no hint to be found that one is on a floating island. The wilderness is almost in perpetual spring, so there is a certain newness … no glacier-moved boulders, or ice-widened cracks, and the trees conspire to hide the skyline of the distant city, while the birds and Creens dominate the air with their songs.

Morning finds a wagon parked in a clearing in the forest, with a makeshift camp set up by the wheels. A wolf cub perches on the roof of the box wagon, keeping a lookout for enemies … with drooping eyelids. Next to him, his fellow guard, a jaguar cub, has fallen asleep, bundled up in a rough, patched blanket the color of bark.

A spotted cub with wings and hooves busies herself carrying handfuls of mud and leaves over several other piles already fixed up. She wears her usual boy's vest and jacket, along with a dirty lace-trimmed shirt. However, Taliamelle now also wears a mask over her eyes and a short black cape that flutters along behind her.

A little bat in a rumpled Temple Scout uniform sleeps against one wheel of the wagon, snoring in high-pitched squeaks.

Taliamelle puts down the last layer of mud, pats it into a little cake, then calls out loudly, "Break'ast! Come and ge' them!"

The little bat promptly wakes up. "Breakfast? YUMMY!" She hops up, then promptly trips over the blanket she has twisted around in, landing flat on her face, while her wings flop wildly behind her.

Taliamelle holds up a dripping cake to the bat. "Mud pie'. Own recipe. Hope you li'e."

The wolf cub jolts upright, mere seconds from dozing off, and blinks, rubbing his eyes against the light of the rising sun. "Morning!" he barks happily, then closes his eyes and lets out a long howl to greet the sun.

Overhead, a flap-flap-flapping of leathery wings heralds an arrival as a – rather colorfully-attired bat pops up over the treeline. Her shadow scoots about over the Scouts as she looks for a likely spot to land.

Rally, the little Temple Scout bat, licks her lips, naive enough to grab the mud pie and have it halfway into her mouth before her expression drops suddenly, and she starts coughing and sputtering, flinging globs of mud everywhere!

Taliamelle pouts. "I's not tha' bad, is it?"

That surprised them! Brishen grins to herself as she swoops down low over the assembled Scouts, looping once around a tree before landing near the wagon.

Pouncer, the jaguar cub, is not stirred in the least by the howling of the wolf cub on the top of the wagon. She still dozes, his shadow shielding her eyes from the morning rays.

Rally wipes her hands on the grass, then looks up, noticing the newcomer. "Eeeeeeeeeeee!" she squeaks! "Intruder alert! Intruder alert!" she cries out, half-running, half-flapping in circles around the wagon.

Brishen looks about, standing at attention as she puffs her chest out officially. "I'm – " She pauses, catching herself. "I'm on official business from the Temple. Where is your – " She looks down as Rally flaps past. "Your commanding officer?"

Taliamelle stands up and trots over to Brishen, wiping the mud off her breeches. "Tha's me. Can' tell with the disguise, huh?" She grins proudly.

Gartuk stops howling, finally noticing his panicked comrade, and the newcomer. "Oh! Incoming messenger!" he belatedly barks.

Brishen shades her eyes from the sun – an awfully official-looking salute – and glances about for a Scout leader. I really need to ask for higher fees. Eeek! It's too sunny out, too. She almost blinks as her eyes come to rest on Taliamelle.

Rally finally stops squeaking and flapping, and collapses in a heap next to the wagon, gasping loudly.

Brishen nods, trying to make her squeaky voice a little gruffer. "Fine work, commander." She leans forward, her voice lowering conspiratorially. "What's the password?"

Taliamelle looks up stunned at Brishen, then crosses her arms, "Hey. I suppose' to ask you that. Wha's the password?"

Gartuk raises his hand, waving it wildly, as his tail wags just as wildly, barking, "I know! I know! I know!"

Brishen furls her wings, casting curious eyes about the campsite. Obviously, she's looking for potential spies, or a group of enemy soldiers camped in the trees. She smells food, too.

Brishen coughs politely as her eyes fall on Taliamelle again, and crosses her arms.

Gartuk loses interest in watching, and clambers down from the top of the wagon, making his way down to drop to the ground, making a show of LEAPING the last … foot or so.

Taliamelle holds her ground, looking as stern as someone her size can.

Brishen tries desperately not to giggle. "Ahem. Very good." She leans forward again and whispers, "Squeep."

An irritated mew comes from the top of the wagon as Pouncer's 'shade' relocates. She peers down from the wagon with half lidded eyes.

Taliamelle smiles, and nodnods. "She okay, guys!" she calls to the others.

Gartuk sniffs at the mud pie "breakfast", wrinkles his nose, then proceeds around the wagon, heedless to Taliamelle's message of approval, as he searches, and at last finds a pack shoved under the wagon. He pulls it out and opens it up, pulling out a few small packages.

Pouncer points to Brishen, "Achoo!"

Rally rolls her eyes, putting her hands to her hips and making a theatric "sigh" at Pouncer's announcement.

Taliamelle follows Brishen around, "No, no' 'achoo', Pouncer. 'Messa'ger'."

Brishen bounces up and down on the balls of her feet. Hey, this could be fun – even if it does feel like I flew into Great Gretchen or something. Commander this – commander that – Jeeze – She pauses, and stops bouncing. "Splendid!"

Gartuk hauls the packages over to the front of the wagon, pausing to sniff curiously at one of the wagon's doors, then just shaking his head … and tearing open the packaging. He grabs a xocholatl-coated rectangular bar and crams the whole thing into his mouth, munching happily.

The jaguar cub imitates Rally's gesture, rolling her eyes and almost tumbling from her perch on top of the wagon in the process. Oblivious to this, she smiles down at Taliamelle and bristles her fur, imitating the way Vartans fluff their feathers.

Rally squeaks indignantly at Gartuk. "You're eating DESSERT for LUNCH first! No fair!"

Taliamelle giggles. She pats Pouncer on the head.

Brishen pauses behind Taliamelle, wings primly furled. "Ahem. There's a matter of a package?"

A struggle between Rally and Gartuk ensues as Gartuk digs further into the backpack, and pulls out ANOTHER one of the wrapped xocholatl bars. Both the wolf and the bat fall to the ground. Even though the bat is no match for the wolf, she at least has the moral high ground.

"Pack-AGE!" Pouncer squawks as the starts to climb down from the wagon.

Gartuk stands up again, holding the xocholatl bar up above his head, while Rally hops up and down, too short to reach it. Gartuk's expression changes to annoyed surprise as Rally simply goes airborne to snatch the bar – Evidently he forgot that he's dealing with a girl that happens to have WINGS.

Taliamelle blinks, then looks back and forth, trying to decide whether to answer Brishen first or stop the scuffle between the Scouts. "Yes, ma'am," she answers finally, and tries to stand obediently despite the destraction in the background.

Brishen oh dears as a lock of curly hair works free, tumbling down to tickle her muzzle. Not again! One hand unclasps a few buckles on her satchel while she tries to casually push the errant lock back.

Pouncer walks up and studies the buckles. "Shiny!" she mews, pointing to them.

Gartuk grumbles at having lost the battle with Rally, and proceeds to demonstrate his Temple Scout skills by building a bonfire … and then spending quite a deal of time trying with no success to start a fire by banging sticks together.

Brishen snuffs as she catches the scent of spiced grasshoppers. So that's where I left my breakfast… She fusses with her satchel, pushing a small paper bag aside, then with a flourish presents a scroll tube to Taliamelle. It even has a seal on it!

Taliamelle oooohs! But not at the scroll. She's caught sight of the shiny buckles that Pouncer was pointing too. However, her attention snaps quickly back to the scroll. "Than' you, ma'am," she says, reaching for it.

Rally watches Gartuk's progress, then shakes her head and digs through the pack again, pulling out some more packages holding Heavily Processed Breakfast Food. She opens hers up. Rather than eating it immediately, she sets it down on the ground, hoping to attract ants.

The jaguar cub, being easily distracted, goes over to Gartuk and begins banging sticks together too! "Bam bam!"

Gartuk whimpers, then says, "Okay, YOUR turn to start the fire." He drops his sticks, and walks back over to the wagon to sulk. He sniffs at the wheel again, making another puzzled expression.

Brishen nods, trying to remain stern as she's reminded of the breakfast she skipped to fly the package out here. Visions of spicy grasshoppers dance in her head. "Yes! You're welcome, Commander."

Taliamelle studies the scroll curiously, then wanders away from the others a few steps, picking at the seal.

The wax seal, stamped with the Star and Anchor, breaks open easily. The outside of the scroll also bears, in conspicious lettering, stencilled on, "TOP SECRET!"

Rally happily squeaks, "Bugsbugsbugsbugsbugs!" Chomping and gobbling noises follow.

Pouncer watches Brishen leave, then sits down on the dirt and begins arranging the sticks into a makeshift tower… or she tries to anyhow, it keeps falling down.

Taliamelle looks both ways, obedient to the stenciling, before unrolling it.

Brishen squeaks to herself. Good going! Here you are making a good impression with the Temple, and all you can think of is your stomach. Priorities! Maybe she could snatch a few grasshoppers while the cubs were occupied with the scroll.

Rally squeaks, "More bugs!" She flutters away from the wagon, landing a few feet distant. "Another bug!"

Brishen pops a few grasshoppers into her mouth surreptitiously. Crunch, crunch.

Gartuk, having stuffed himself with Heavily Processed Breakfast Food, has resumed sniffing at the wagon, going all around it. "Uhm … I smell strangers!"

"BUG!" Pouncer squeals, whacking… something… with her stick.

Rally flutters into the air, landing a few more feet away, now at the edge of the clearing. "ANOTHER bug!" she squeaks happily.

*GISH*

Brishen perks an ear, looking over at Rally. Gish?

Rally contentedly munches on something, then flutters off further into the trees. "… ANOTHER BUG!… "

Taliamelle quickly rools the scroll back up, "S'rangers?," she repeats. Well, almost.

Gartuk sniffs at the door to the wagon again… then slides it open. "AIEEEEEEEEEEEE!" he cries out, and runs away from the wagon, flailing his arms. "We've been ROBBED!"

Pouncer holds a stick out to Brishen. "Gish!" she mews, then looks curiously towards Rally.

Brishen wilts a bit, wishing she could join the little Eeee. Gosh, she's… Ears perk as she looks up. "Robbed?"

A pair of little bat ears poke up from amidst the trees at the edge of the clearing, focusing back on the bawling wolf. Gartuk says, "Just look! The wagon! Cookies! We had a bunch of cookies – I know, because I peeked! – and they're all GONE now!"

Brishen looks from Pouncer to Gartuk to Rally, and back again. I'm not being paid enough for thiiiiis…

Taliamelle runs over the wagon, trying to peek inside.

Brishen shrugs, and flutters over as well. The Temple Scouts did book her services for the whole morning. The whole morning! Squeak! Her ears quiver nervously.

The interior of the wagon is still fairly dark, since it has no windows, just two doors (one on each side), and otherwise is fairly box-car-like in its construction. Inside, it is mostly empty. At first, there is no indication that anything was in the wagon at all, except that there are remnants of some Temple Scout Cookie packages torn up, scattered about the floor of the wagon.

Brishen entertains a sacrilegious thought: Who could eat ALL of them?

The packages in question seem to be boxes of "Crunchy Cricket" and "Sugarfir Delight". The former have at least one appropriate insect inside every cookie, while the latter are filled with a sort of cream made from sugarfir leaves imported from distant Ur.

Taliamelle frowns, clutching the scroll tighter in her hand. There goes her badge.

Oblivious to all of this, Pouncer has taken to 'painting' the side of the wagon with her stick… since the tip of it now has some kind of gooey substance on it.

Gartuk sits on the ground, bawling in a very un-manly manner. "They're all go-o-o-o-n-n-n-nnnnnne!"

Brishen hfs squeakily. They would have to steal the only ones she – Her ears swivel slightly as she glances over to where Rally's hiding in the trees. She winces a little and covers her ears as she looks back at Gartuk.

Rally squeaks, "I didn't do it! OOOO! Another bug!" Another quick munching sound follows.

Gartuk stops sniffling, and licks his chops. "Talking about food makes me hungry! Pouncer, you gonna eat your breakfast?"

"Bug!" Pouncer squawks and runs off to join Rally; her stick has run dry. "Gish!"

Gartuk smiles, forgetting the disaster at hand. "Aw right! It's MINE!" He scrambles for the rations pack.

Brishen leaves Taliamelle to deal with the bawling wolf-cub, and looks around. Okay, which of these cubs looks like a koosh with legs?

Brishen squeaks. So he's NOT bawling. Cubs.

Gartuk sniffs at the bag, then digs out Pouncer's Heavily Processed Breakfast Food, and begins making short order of it, accidentally downing some of the wrapping in his enthusiasm.

Rally flaps out of the bushes, and flutters up to Brishen. "Ooo! There's a whole LINE of bugs! And they've got a bit of xocholatl on them! And they're already dead, so they're easy to catch! YUM!"

Off in the distance there's a dull *whack*, and Pouncer re-emerges, happily clutching her stick. She balks at Rally's words, and gives the tip of her stick an experimental lick.

The taller bat. Well, relatively taller bat perks her ears, and smiles as she glances at Rally. "Really? Where do they lead?"

Taliamelle frets for a moment, then clambers up onto the back of the wagon. If everyone else is not going to go hunting for the cookie theives, she might as well read her scroll. She unrolls it again.

Pouncer mews happily and runs back up to Rally, whacking things randomly on the ground and testing to see if they taste good by chewing on the tip of her stick. "Gishgishgishgish… "

The scroll reads, in elaborate script, "Congratulations, young Temple Scout, for defending this important shipment of Temple Scout Cookies from the Enemies of the Temple! You are to be commended! Remain here with the wagon, and perform patrols of the clearing for the remainder of the day, and practice your Temple Scout skills. A Dromodon team will be sent before sundown for the wagon. The secret password will be: Hooska."

Taliamelle gulps. Okay, maybe she read it too late. "Um, guy', we got a problem," she says, pointing to the parchment.

Gartuk looks up. "Whamph? Camph reaph itph? Giph itph toph meph!" He talks with his mouth open, still chewing Heavily Processed Breakfast Food.

Taliamelle holds out the scroll to Gartuk, scowling.

Gartuk clambers up the side of the wagon, gulps down the rest of his mouthful, then grabs the scroll in his mouth and scrambles back down to the ground. He reads the scroll out loud, even to the secret password.

Gartuk whimpers as he finishes reading the scroll. "It's not FAIR!" He looks up to Taliamelle. "You gonna eat your breakfast?"

Taliamelle holds out her hands in disparate explaination. "We don' got no cookies. What we do?"

Gartuk hmms. "Eat breakfast?"

Pouncer runs back up to Taliamelle and shows her her stick, "Bug!" she squawks, waving it around.

Taliamelle pokes Gartuk softly. "All you think 'bout is eating. I thin' you stole the cookies"

There is a crack of a twig breaking, and the sound of impatient hoofsteps followed by growled words. The tone and ferocity suggest the angry state of their speaker, even if the specific words are incomprehensible. There is the crash of branches breaking, and loud slapping noises, accompanied by a splash.

Gartuk looks hurt at the insult … then jumps at the sounds. "INTRUDER ALERT!" he barks in unison with Rally's squeaking of the same warning.

Taliamelle blinks. She jumps off the back of the wagon and runs to where she can possibly see who's coming.

Brishen looks around, her hair getting increasingly frazzled, and gives up on trying to track all of these kids. Then blinks at the splash – There's a moment of indecision, before she flap-flap-flaps into the air, trying to get a quick look at who's making all the noise.

Rally flaps off into the trees, hiding from whatever it is that's approaching.

"Bath," Pouncer mews, sticking out her tongue in an 'ew' face.

Just visible on the opposite side of the clearing, several trees back and heading towards it, is a black form that lurches and swings its arms violently around it. The branches it is shoving aside obscure the form, but only partially obscure the shape of a black Khatta.

There's an alarmed SQUEAK from the woods, from the direction of where Rally sought shelter in the trees.

Taliamelle screams! then runs over to grab Pouncer. "I thin' cookie thief is coming back," she whispers to her, frowning.

Brishen bites her lower lip. This was NOT how things were supposed to turn out. She turns a spiral in the air, fluttering about, then swoops down towards the sound of the squeak.

Gartuk looks up from finishing off Taliamelle's Heavily Processed Breakfast Food, making a confused "Rrrr?" noise as he looks about for the source of the noise.

Pouncer mews and points off in the direction Rally flew off. "Achoo!"

Rally is nowhere to be found, once Brishen zeroes in on the squeak. Nearby, though, she can see one of those xocholatl-covered crickets (quite dead) that the little bat mentioned earlier.

The squeak is a few trees distant from where the person stomps into the clearing. She is not quite a black Khatta in fact, resembling Taliamelle, but much bigger, with horns and without a tail or wings. Small spikey seed pods cling to her ankles and calves, and she is trying to tear off a cluster of hookthorn branches which have attached to her arm. The devilcat's tunic and breeches are soaked with some sticky brown fluid, which must be exceptionally attractive to bugs as they are swarming around her. She swears some more in her language and swats at them.

Gartuk gets up and dashes over toward the stranger, sniffing at her.

Taliamelle says, "Gartu', come back."

Brishen flap-flap-flaps, stirring up leaves as she hovers just above the treetops for a moment, her gaze increasingly frantic as she looks around for Rally. "I can't see a thing," she mutters as she looks down at the forest.

"Zsofi hate the woods! Zsofi will smash these trees to knitting needles and use them to make ghish-kabobs with the bugs. The ground will be ripped up, and thrown to the ground from cursed flying island. First running bugs with legs, now flying bugs that sting." She slaps herself, hard, trying to hit the insects, and succeeds in only battering herself. Then, she notices Gartuk.

Gartuk backs away. "What's the PASSWORD?" he barks, standing up straight. Over his shoulder, he says loudly to Taliamelle, "She doesn't smell like the stranger!"

Taliamelle just blinks and watches.

"Password? Zsofi is being asked for password!" She leans down, snarling, close enough to Gartuk that he can see very clearly how her eyes are a total pitch black, in a black furred face. "Zsofi has been stuck in woods for whole yesterday and night and is not to be asked of for passwords."

Gartuk's ears flatten back. "I am a TEMPLE SCOUT!" he barks, as if he were saying something more like, "I am an Arch Inquisitor!" Of course, he's not. "This is a TOP SECRET MISSION … and you need to tell me the password!"

Brishen flutters about. Maybe she could just swoop down and hope she doesn't run into anything. Her lower lip trembles as she peers down at the swirling gray mass of leaves. Well, gray to her at least. "Maybe if I – " She blinks as she catches the sound of Zsofi's voice.

Taliamelle shifts from one foot to the other, her arms still loosely around Pouncer. "Ooooh, Gartuk, be careful… " she says in a hushed voice.

The devilcat is about to say something further, but her pause glare at the little Jupani cub gives the insects the opportunity to land. They do so eagerly, seeming to like the taste of Zsofi almost as much as the Rata-syrup she has spilled on her clothes. She jumps with a yowl as they start to bite again.

Gartuk snickers, covering his face and pointing at the leaping cat-thing.

"Zsofi" *slap* "Will" *slap* "Enjoy" *slap* "Destorying" *slap* "This World" *Slap-slap!* The demonkhatta hits herself more often than a bug.

Big brown eyes widen even more as Brishen spirals up into the sky – and catches sight of Zsofi. Her brows furrow a little – Didn't she see this thing in the Bazaar once? Er – Hm. No. That was taller. Or maybe not.

Taliamelle giggles, although nervously. She glances down at the cub in her arms.

Brishen musters herself, puffing her chest out a bit, and brushes her hair back. If she's going to die at the hands of some lunatic, she might as well look good. Then, she tucks her wings in and swoops down to land near Gartuk.

"Stop laughing at Zsofi!" the now bug-speckled, syrup soaked, almost-khatta yowls. "I am not a joke for children. Children used to pop at my name, so great was their terror." She turns to glare at Brishen's landing.

Gartuk sounds more proudly as he has a BIG person standing next to him! "Nyah!" He crosses his arms defiantly.

Brishen grins weakly, ducking her head a little. Well, almost a big person. She straightens up again though, and puffs her chest out, trying to look impressive. The bright sun makes her blouse particularly striking.

Zsofi roars again as the bugs land and start biting once more, prompting another slap fest and strange dance. Getting clear of the insects, she refocuses on Brishen. "I will kill you all, but if you show Zsofi way out of the forest, I will put you on back of the list."

Gartuk says, as gruffly as he can manage, "Only if you give me the password first!"

The wolf cub ponders, then says, "Or the magic word will do."

Eyes brighten a bit as Brishen points off to a clear-looking part of the forest, preferably in the direction of Rephidim. "Uh," she stammers, "That way."

Taliamelle wrinkles her nose. Magic word?

Gartuk's ears droop. "But she didn't say the PASSWORD!"

Brishen blinks a few times – The cub does have a point. Then she shakes her head, her voice more than a little squeaky. "She isn't from the Temple, either."

The devilcat's eyes gleam in hatred, focused on the small wolf. "Zsofi will let little black flies suck dry her bones and hold ballroom dances in her ribs before asking ball of fluff for help! I offer you swift death later instead of slow one, and you in stupidness do not take it. OW!" She moves the glare to Brishen, "Good, you smart. Zsofi will not kill you now."

Gartuk hmms, then says, "Well then, she can't see us, because we're Top Secret!" He pulls his sash up over his eyes. "You can't see me!"

A little vermite hops down off of the devilcat's back and skitters away, disappearing into the underbrush. A couple more follow in like fashion.

Brishen nods solemnly, pushing the wolf cub behind her as she smiles pleasantly at Zsofi. She tries not to wrinkle her nose at the vermites.

The devilcat snarls a few more times, slapping at the bugs. She ignores Brishen's pleasant expression, her own a twisted one of rage as she stomps off vaugely in the direction the Eee indicated. She crashes into a few more low branches as she enters the trees.

Gartuk lets the sash drop back into place, then sniffs at the air, then at the ground. "Hey! I smell … *sniff* … whatever … *sniff*"

"Zsofi hate this job, Zsofi will kill them all. AHHH! Zsofi forget stupid bucket of syrup. Zsofi hate bugs… " Her angry voice can be heard slowly fading, along with the stomp of her hooves.

Taliamelle sticks out her tongue. "Friendly lady … not!"

A couple of vermites peek out at Brishen and Gartuk, their beady eyes glittering in the sunlight, and then they disappear again.

Brishen deflates, flopping down to sit next to Gartuk. "Whew." Then she leaps to her feet again, looking frantically towards the forest. "Rally… " By now her hair's worked mostly free, curling crazily around her ears. I do NOT get paid enough for this, she thinks as she flutters back towards the treeline.

Gartuk sets to sniffing at the ground again, moving around in circles.

Pouncer squeals, chasing a vermite out from under the wagon, smashing at the ground with her stick. Whackwhackwhackwhack! The vermite runs away, and dives into the underbrush, while Pouncer proceeds to beat a bush senseless. (Not that a bush had senses to begin with, but … )

Taliamelle watches Pouncer a moment. She thinks a moment, trying to remember what she was doing…

Brishen hovers for a moment, then clenches her hands into fists and darts into the forest, fluttering about between the trees. "Rally!"

Somewhere in the distance, as the wind shifts just right, Brishen catches what SOUNDS like a cry from the little bat … somewhere a good distance away … in the trees below and beyond.

Taliamelle ohs! Rally! She clambers on foot throught the brush towards the sounds, occasionally looking up to spot Brishen overhead.

The tip of a coal-black wing nicks a branch as Brishen wobbles dizzily amongst the trees. For her, it's a nightmare – all dark grays and shivery lines struck through with brilliant beams of light. Eventually she gives up, closing her eyes, and lets her ears guide her towards the little bat.

At Taliamelle's feet … well, under her hoof … something crushes lightly. Upon inspection, it's a Sugarfir Delight cookie … except that it's hollow! There are two little holes poked into the top of the cookie.

Taliamelle gasps. She picks up the cookie and lets it crumble beneath her finger. She starts a search of a different sort, looking around for any other cookies in the area.

Another cookie is found ahead … then another! The hollowed-out cookies, with the pinprick holes in the top, roughly form a line … in the same direction that Brishen was flying! A few dead crickets smelling of xocholatl can be found along the way as well.

Taliamelle shrugs and follows the cookie trail.

Brishen, going by air, reaches the end of the cookie trail, quite some distance ahead of Taliamelle. It leads to another clearing, in the midst of which can be found some long-abandoned stone buildings – accesses to the vast underground sewer system of Rephidim, generally neglected as much as the sewer system itself is.

Brishen lands with a thump on a broad branch, somewhere above and at the edge of the clearing. She rubs her forehead a little as her ears flick about. Her voice fades into the ultrasonic as she calls out, "Rallllleeeee!"

A little bat's voice squeaks in response, but it is drowned out by a loud, "BwahahahahahahaaHAAAAAA!" and a chorus of tiny little chittering squeaks.

Just around one of the buildings, a great crowd of the little rat-bug creatures – vermites – can be seen swarming about.

Brishen slumps tiredly, opening her eyes to look down at the vermites, then looks up at the buildings. Hmm – Maybe she could land on a roof.

The buildings are constructed entirely of stone, and should be quite sturdy enough to hold the lightweight bat. Despite their age, they show no cracks or other signs of collapsing.

Their domed roofs are stained dark shades of gray from the weather, and have patches of moss and creeping vines here and there, but otherwise the forest has not encroached far into this clearing.

Brishen crouches a bit, then leaps off the branch with a clatter of leaves. Flap-flap-flap! Toes scrabble a bit as she lands atop one of the domes.

A deep, lisping voice booms, from the other side of the dome, "Yeth, my young appwentithe! Now I hath the key to conquewing the wohld!" The voice belongs to a tall, pitch-black bat wearing dark robes, while the little bat, Rally, is sitting on a stone slab nearby, partially bound, and surrounded by chittering vermites.

On the other side of the stone slab, several boxes of Temple Scout Cookies are stacked up high – the bulk, surely, of the contents of the wagon.

Brishen rests an ear against the dome. This is too weird…

The black bat continues, "I wiw stwike feah into the heahts of all Wephidem! Not efen theiw pwechious Tempeh Scout Cookies awe thafe fwom the Wath of Wyckyd! I thall cwippeh the Tempeh by theawing each and evewy Tempeh Cookie in the wand!"

Brishen drops off the dome, letting the air catch her wings as she swoops in a circle around the building. There HAS to be a way in somewhere…

"Never!" squeaks the little bat. "You'll NEVER get away with this … you … you … YOU BIG MEANIE!"

Taliamelle finally catches up to Brishen, her chest heaving heavily. She looks almost ready to collapse, but get refreshed strength from seeing what she does. "Oh!" she says between gasps for breath.

There are a few other dome-topped buildings that could provide cover to hide behind. As for the vermites, the tall bat and the smaller captive (and the cookies), there are plenty of avenues of approach, though most of them would surely alert someone to intruders.

The tall black bat just stands up straight, rearing back as he laughs loudly, "BwahahahahaaHAAAAAA!" This pose shows off two oversized, sharp fangs protruding from his mouth … and, no doubt, the cause of his pronounced lisp.

Brishen flutters about until she finds a likely spot to enter the building, tucking her wings close as she swoops in. Well, there's nothing like a dramatic entrance!

Meanwhile, back at the edge of the clearing, a young Jupani crashes through the underbrush, bumping into Taliamelle, habitually sniffing at her wings, before coming to the conclusion … "Oh, it's you!" Pouncer follows closely, wielding a stick, chanting, "GISH! GISHGISHGISH!"

Brishen shouts as she plummets into the building. "ALRIGHT, THAT'S! – " She looks down at the vermites assembled below, then up at the bat in purple robes, who she happens to be flying directly towards. "Ack!" Arms and legs flail about as she tries to pull up. "Eep!"

Wyckyd, the tall dark bat, spins around. "Who daheth to viowate the sanctity of mah secwet hideout? AIEEEEEE!" He brings up his arms to shield himself from the incoming bat messenger.

Taliamelle screams! as the Jupani bumps into her then scowls up at Gartuk. "Hush … You guys will blow my cover."

Rally cries out, "Yay! I'm SAVED!"

Gartuk sheepishly covers his mouth. "Sorry!" Pouncer squeals, "GISH!" and whacks several times at a bug that isn't moving.

Brishen manages to pull up enough that when she hits the robed bat, they both tumble backwards in a pile of wings, arms, and legs. She lets out a squeak before passing out.

Taliamelle impulsively grabs the stick. "Pouncer … We need ta be quieeeeeeet."

Rally looks disappointed when Brishen passes out. "Hey! HEY! You're supposed to RESCUE me now!"

Pouncer pouts.

Taliamelle blinks, then turns to the scene. "Then 'gain. Le's go!"

Taliamelle runs out, waving the stick. "Okay, bad guy. You had las' hurrah!"

Wyckyd takes a moment to untangle himself, staggering to his feet, a few unfortunately crushed vermites falling from his robes. "Bah!" is all he has to say, while he shakes his head, trying to regain his bearings. He looks at Taliamelle, then says, "Cuhtheth! Foiwed again!"

Rally squeaks, kicking her legs. "My hewo! Rrr … I mean, HERO!"

Brishen wobbles to her feet. The pretty shell band she uses to keep her hair tied back is long gone, and the aforementioned curly black locks are frizzled out all over the place. She squints, looking around blearily. "Ow."

Taliamelle holds the stick up like it was the finest sword in Rephidim. "Tha's right. Surrender the cookies and the Eees to us."

Gartuk grabs up a stick and waves it around like it were a sword. Pouncer similarly proves to be resourceful enough to find another stick as well. "GISH!" she squeals as her battle cry, as she charges after Taliamelle.

Wyckyd lets out another "BwahahahahahaaaHAAAA!" and then swirls his cloak, half-hiding his face as he says, "You haff foiwed my mathtah pwans thith day, but I thall wetuwn! My minionth … wetweat!"

With that, the dark bat takes wing, slipping out and away … as the huge swarm of vermites simply scatters in every possible direction, many of them disappearing into grates on the ground.

Brishen looks around absently, legs trembling a little. "You know, I never did have breakfast… "

Brishen falls over with a leathery FWUMP.

There are some more chittering squeaks and crunching noises as several more of Wyckyd's little "minions" fall prey to Brishen's falling form.

Taliamelle puntuates the air with her stick. "Yaaaaah!" She stops and blinks at the bat. "You sick?" she asks.

"HEY!" squeaks Rally. "You're supposed to RESCUE me!"

Brishen mumbles weakly, curled up in her wings. "You're rescued. Lemme go to bed, now."

Rally hmphs, grumping.

Taliamelle starts again, then runs over to Rally, and starts sawing at the rope with her stick, perhaps carrying her ideal of a sword too far.

Gartuk and Pouncer charge in, whacking at everything in sight, driving away the remaining vermites with cries of "GISH!"

Brishen sits up abruptly, her inner ears a little pale as she rubs her head.

Taliamelle finally gives up sawing with the stick and glares at it. She thinks a few moments, then shrugs and unties the knot holding Rally's bonds together.

It takes several trips, but the heroic Temple Scouts manage to retrieve the cookies – except for a few boxes that that wicked Wyckyd must have devoured … sucking the middles out of the Sugarfir Delights and eating everything but the bugs from the Crunchy Crickets. All in all, the losses were far less than originally feared.

In appreciation for their accomplishments in the face of adversity, each of the Temple Scouts gets a special badge to put on their sashes, and everyone – including Brishen – gets a complimentary box of Temple Scout Cookies!

Also, Pouncer gets to keep her stick … although Zoltan might well relieve her of it later.

Brishen glances at her box, smiling weakly. I really hope these're Crunchy Crickets… Ow the wowld wiw pay fow its fowwy! She ugs a little and rubs her head. "I need to stop taking these day jobs."

---

GMed by Greywolf

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Today is 7 days before Reckoning Day, Year 27 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6126)