Upper branches Wingnut compound: Kettenrad quarter.
The elevator has let off in a section of the Wingnut clan's treetop compound. A sign near the elevator reads
'Kettenrad. Let not your hands wander, lest an evil fate befall you.' and a beneath that in really small letters 'And we mean it, too!'. Several walkways branch out to various sections of the Kettenrad quarter. Most appear to be walkways to the family members' private quarters. However, a few stand out as different; one leads up to a large, multi-roomed building that appears to be some sort of group dining hall. It's currently brightly lit and quite cheerful … in spite of the odd piping and various belts that stick out of it at various angles. Another, path leads off into a center section of the compound. In the distance of that path, a jungle of roping and nets can be seen. And lastly, a more ominous path branches off. It looks like one to a private residence, but it's overgrown and tangled.
The day finally came when the induction ceremony for Amelia Blacktail was to occur. Her invitation was delivered by none other than Gunther Kettenrad, who came within inches of skewering her tail with a crossbow bolt that had the message around it. The message was simple: Come to the Kettenrad Quarter with your witness. The trip over was uneventful and things are disturbingly quiet.
Amelia pauses just outside the door to the Kettenrad's common room, twitching nervously. Beside her, looking very out of place in a shirt, trousers and jacket is her cousin Roy, the Blacktail's blacksmith and historian. Unlike the smaller Kadie, he doesn't twitch or make any uncontrolled movements. "Well?" he prompts, and Amy finally knocks on the door.
And … the floor drops away under both of them! They fall into darkness and land moments later on something padded with a thump. Above them the light vanishes as the trap door closes.
"Is this why you hesitated?" Roy asks Amelia, sounding a bit shocked.
"Ummm, it never did that before," Amy admits, smoothing out the unseen wrinkles in her skirt so that she has something to do.
A light shines through a previously unseen doorway, carried by Elsa Kettenrad. She's carrying a bundled up pile of cloth. "Sorry, the others voted that it would help keep you alert. Personally, I think men just have aversions to doors," she explains. "And you must be Roy."
Standing up (and being careful about low ceilings), Roy nods his head to the Kadie woman. "Yes ma'am," he says, suddenly sounding a bit shy.
"Oh, no need to be so formal," Elsa says as she sets down the bundle. She considers Roy for a moment as she taps her chin. "And I hope something will fit. You are rather large," she notes.
Amy gets up as well, and smiles a bit apologetically. "I guess I should have been more cautious. Do we just put these on over our regular clothes?" she asks.
"At one time you'd go without clothing at all. But that was abolished some time ago. They're just simple robes so yes, you can put them on over your regular clothes if you don't believe you would be too hot. They've been washed, but may still smell a bit like the chest they're kept in to keep the insects off," Elsa notes. She peers at each of them for a moment, then starts looking through the bundle.
Amelia almost asks if Elsa had to go naked, but decides not to. Roy just scratches the right side of his head, where his white mohawk flops over.
Elsa pulls out the largest robe she can find and walks over to Roy. "Arms out, please?" she asks.
The big man (for a Kadie) spreads his arms, making his jacket scrunch up at the shoulders.
Elsa hmms, then says, "Jacket off, then arms out."
This takes a moment, and Amy eventually has to help him, but Roy gets the jacket off without tearing it.
"You don't take that off much, do you?" Elsa inquires once the jacket is off. She then goes about pulling the robe onto the large Kadie. It's a struggle, but she manages to pull it onto both of his arms. She then reaches around him in somewhat of a hug as she reaches for the ends of a golden toned sash belt.
Roy looks up at the drop shaft to avoid looking down at Elsa's scalp. "Don't put it on much, Ma'am. Usually just a smock and shorts."
"Given your size, that must make you quite popular with the ladies," Elsa notes as she pulls the sash around and closes the the robe (barely). After cinching the sash, she starts adjusting bits here and there as she tries to get it to hang reasonably well. It's basically a black and golden robe with a gear pattern sewn asymmetrically into one shoulder.
"Only if their sinuses are blocked, Ma'am," Roy notes, while looking down to make sure the robe isn't too flammable looking.
"Hm? I'm not sure I follow that," Elsa replies and goes back to the pile of robes to find one for Amelia.
"Roy works at the forge and maintains some of our weapons," Amelia explains. "He usually smells like smoke and grease and… uh… you probably don't notice it, yourself."
Elsa laughs quietly. "Most everyone here smells like that. You do quit noticing," She notes as she approaches Amelia this time with a robe. "Arms out."
The girl puts her arms out, hoping there's a robe short enough for her. The last thing she wants is to trip over the hem at a bad moment.
"So, have you shown Roy your gift from he foreigners?" Elsa asks as she carefully pulls the robe onto Amelia, being careful to not scrunch up her clothing in the sleeves.
Amy nods, and Roy suddenly lights up. "I need to figure out how they get the metals to mix like that. I'm sure it's a controlled cooling process, but my kiln needs to be rebuilt to try it," he says.
"Have you asked them?" Elsa asks and starts cinching up Amelia's robe. She pauses and looks at Amelia critically, then loosens the belt some. "It looks better a little loose. Otherwise it looks like you're going to, ah, pop out, up top," she explains. The robe goes right to the floor. Hopefully she won't trip on the hem,
"Ask whom?" Amelia asks.
"The visitors, about how they made it," Elsa clarifies.
"Why would they give away their secrets?" Roy asks. From a Kadie viewpoint, that's a pretty valid assumption.
"How do you know it's a secret?" Elsa counters. "That could be common in their lands."
"I'll ask for you, Roy, next time I see Inaya," Amy promises as Roy looks a bit uncertain at the prospect of meeting the foreigners.
"A big fellow like you shouldn't be so shy," Elsa comments then steps back from the pair. "Well, not perfect, but then we haven't really had any reason to make any new robes in years."
Amy stands as straight and tall as she can to avoid sweeping the floor with the hem of her robe. "What happens next?" she asks Elsa.
"Well, I escort your witness to the ceremony chamber. You go into the next room, through the door I came in through, then take a right. Be sure to stand in the center of the room," Elsa explains, then offers her arm to Roy.
Roy loops his arm through Elsa's, and tells Amy, "Be careful." Amelia nods and swallows, and heads in the direction Elsa pointed out.
"Oh, she has nothing to be worried about," Elsa tells Roy as she leads him off. "No one has been hurt in the ceremony in a few generations. Well, except for… " The comment fades off into the background, leaving Amelia walking down a dimly lit passage. In the distance is a closed wooden door.
Amy pauses at the door, and checks around it for any obvious traps before trying to open it.
No, no obvious traps. Looks like a typical door. It opens with a creak into a musty, dark, room. She can barely make out the that the room is round.
Stepping out into what she estimates to be the center of the room, Amelia keeps on her toes (literally) and tries to look confident.
The door she entered through suddenly closes with a loud bang! The room disappears into a sea of black.
Amy focuses on her breathing to keep herself calm. It's all about keeping a level head during stressful situations, she thinks.
All around her creaking and hissing sounds can be heard. The air feels a little more damp and she can smell the wet scent of steam. And then … above her the ceiling opens up and light pours down.
The Kadie blinks several times to adjust her eyes to the sudden light, and tenses herself for action, half expecting water to pour down or steam to erupt or the whole room to explode.
The floor lurches violently under Amelia's feet. But, she manages to maintain standing and looking confident, at that. And then the floor itself starts moving upward. Around her she can see it separate along a jagged circular seam. It takes a moment, but she realizes she's standing on a huge gear.
As things start moving, Amy double checks that she's in the center, just in case the thing starts turning.
Thankfully, she is. Up she goes into a large room. All around her is a circular sort of podium with cloaked and hooded figures sitting. She can just feel them staring at her. With a dull thump, the floor locks into place, leaving her on a slightly raised dais. She can't currently see either Elsa or Roy. Or anyone she recognizes, really.
Unsure of what to do next, Amy just stands there looking expectant and making sure not to slouch.
Suddenly, from somewhere above, a loud drum roll shatters the silence. Seconds later, two horns blare out a ceremonial prelude. The seriousness of the music is unfortunately hampered by one of the horns sounding like an ailing swamp bird that just got its leg caught in a trap. Muffled laughter breaks out, then a voice hoots, "Ursula! I thought you were going to get that thing fixed before the ceremony!" A female voice complains in return, "Hey, it's not my problem! Dieter sat on it, so he should fix it!"
Amy struggles not to break out in a laugh, especially after nearly jumping from the initial fanfare.
"It didn't sound any better before I sat on it!" comes a reply from one of the hooded figures surrounding Amelia. "Ducky's Rughrat plays better music than you do."
"Sssh! This is supposed to be a formal occasion!" comes another reply.
"Yes, I know, this robe is chaffing my butt," comes another complaint. "Someone starched these."
"Welcome to the family," Amy thinks to herself, with a bit of amusement.
Now there's the sound of a loud raspberry being turned in Dieter's direction. "Fine, if you're so musical, YOU come up here and play this thing!" the same female voice shouts. "I only got drafted into it 'cause Armand's baby front teeth finally fell out and he can't play again 'til his permanent teeth grow in!"
"You could have glued his teeth back in!" comes Dieter's retort. Then there's this loud slap sound, followed by Deirdre's familiar voice, "Shut up."
Amelia chews on her lower lip. The arches of her feet are beginning to ache from standing on her toes, so she relaxes them and hopes she won't have to move quickly.
"Ahem." the central figure in the room says, then stands up. "Now, may we begin, please?" the figure intones in a booming hollow sounding voice. "Miss Blacktail, you stand before the tribunal in a rare honor. Never before have we invited a Blacktail to join," he says.
"I am honored to be the first then, sir," Amy snaps out, as if replying to a militia officer.
"Mmm, yes," the figure says. The hood shifts as if considering the Kadie briefly. "Becoming a member will grant you access to our greatest secrets."
"And some our dumbest ones," comes a comment from behind Amelia. "Look up the auto-backside washing outhouse plans sometime. The steam pressure launched someone thirty feet straight up!"
"Hush!" the figure before Amelia says loudly.
Amy nods, then says, "I will do my best to protect those secrets."
"Indeed. As with all members, you must have a guide who accepts you and will speak for you … and also accept equal share in any mistake you may make during your first year. Such helps insure responsibility in the young, when another is bound to their fate," the figure intones. "So, who will stand at your side and accept to have their fate bound to yours for a year?"
"Elsa Kettenrad," Amy pipes up.
"Elsa Kettenrad, do you accept this responsibility?" the figure asks the room.
"Indeed, I do," comes the reply and from the shadows behind Amelia, Elsa Kettenrad walks forward and steps onto the platform. She takes her position beside Amelia. From Amelia's vantage point, she can see Elsa too now wears a robe. "You're doing fine, relax," she whispers.
Amy swallows, once more having nearly jumped when Elsa appeared. She thinks about talking to Igor maybe you really can have eyes in the back of your head…
"The tribunal then recognizes the bond between you and Miss Blacktail, Elsa. You will share all responsibility for any infractions she may make," the figure says with a short nod. "We expect great things of you, Miss Blacktail. You defended the clan without fear and saved the life… lives… of many of us."
"It is the duty of all to protect the dam," Amy recites, and hopes her blush isn't showing.
"It wasn't just the dam you defended, but I digress," the figure says, then looks around the room. "As an honorary member, it must also be recorded with your birth clan of your dual-membership with us. Who speaks as your clan representative?"
"Umm, I suppose I do?" Roy answers from the audience.
"Page, please lead the representative to the platform to be recognized by the tribunal," the figure says.
There's a bit of scuffling from within the ranks of those watching, then another hooded and robed figure leads Roy onto the gear-shaped platform. This in itself is somewhat amusing, since the robed figure is several inches shorter and much smaller-framed than the Kadie blacksmith. Once this duty is done, the page melts into the background and awaits further orders.
Roy faces the same direction as the others, and lowers his hood so everyone can see him (as if the big black bushy tail wasn't enough). He also makes sure his hair covers the scars on the right side of his head. He raises a hand and gives a little wave.
"Mr. Blacktail," the figure says flatly, "Does your clan have any objections to the offer posed to her?"
"What's with the white mohawk?" comes a comment from the side.
"No," Roy answers. "I'm pretty sure we would have tied her up or something otherwise."
"Besides, it's not like she hasn't been snogging one of our clan for awhile. If they had an issue, I would think they would have come after him," Dieter remarks from where he sits in the shadows. Another slapping sound is heard a moment later.
Amelia just grits her teeth and tries not to feel completely embarrassed.
"It just better be safe snogging," Elsa whispers to Amelia.
Unsure of what Elsa means, Amy whispers back, "Don't worry, I always keep a weapon in reach."
"Members of the tribunal, please stand," the figure says and raises his arms. The cloaked and hooded figures around Amelia all stand.
"Page, please take Miss Blacktail to meet the others," the figure announces. "Musicians, drums, please."
"Others?" Amy asks in a small voice.
After some rattling and scraping sounds from the balcony above, two drummers stand and begin to beat out a slow, steady rhythm. Then the cloaked page reappears at Amelia's elbow and leads her over to the first member of the tribunal on their left. In a few moments, Amelia realizes that their pace matches the beat of the drums exactly.
Amy remembers at the last moment to rise up on her toes a bit, to avoid tripping on the hem of her robe while following the cadence of the music.
The figure's hood goes back and it's non-other than … Gunther. He grins at Amelia and notes, "You know … you're lower ranking than me. Heheheheheh."
"Don't get any funny ideas," Amy tells Gunther.
"That's Mister Gunther," Gunther says, grinning rather widely. The figure near him leans over and swats the back of his head. And Amelia is lead over to the next one. The hood goes back on Zahnrad and he says, "Sorry for all the drama. They like to try and make this mysterious."
"Everything that goes on here is mysterious to me," Amy admits with a grin.
"Your cousin is huge," Zahn notes as Amelia is lead to the next one. "Aren't any of you short?" He grins.
"Just me," Amy replies, before focusing on the next tribunal member.
The next one is Deirdre. She looks down at Amelia in her usual cold and appraising manner. "Well … welcome," she says quietly and extends her hand.
Amy takes her hand and gives it a friendly squeeze. "I guess you'll be keeping a close eye on me now?" she asks the other woman.
In the midst of all this, the two horn players have also risen to their feet in the balcony, although thankfully their instruments are nowhere to be seen. They begin to chant in time with the drumming, "Is she fit to join the illustrious Wingnut clan?" After this, the audience replies, also in chant, "Yea, verily, yea." Then the horn players continue, "Has she passed all tests and taken a fitting guide?" Again, the answer from the audience is, "Yea, verily, yea."
"Only your back," Deirdre replies with a small shrug. Next to her Dieter groans and mutters, "Are we still doing that stupid chant?"
Almost as if it were planned, the audience chants its next, "Yea, verily, yea" just as Dieter makes his remark.
Taking a step over, Amy tries to defuse whatever sarcastic comment Dieter had planned by saying, "You're looking handsome as always, Dieter. I hope you'll be able to help me figure things out?"
"Well, someone has to take pity … er, yes," Dieter remarks, looking rather confused and a bit stunned when he finally understood the comment by Amelia.
Amy steps to the next person, before Dieter thinks that she tricked him.
All at once, Amelia can hear a distant door slamming and someone else come running into the balcony. Glancing up, she can see a gray-furred female Kadie in a white apron leaning over the side and waving down to the robed figure leading the ceremony. "C'mon, hurry it up in here!" she calls. "The hazelnut souffle' is getting cold! Do you want the whole banquet to spoil before you even get to the first course?" At this, the two drummers pause, look at each other, then shrug. A second later they resume the beat only this time it's three times faster than before!
With a squeak of alarm, Amy picks up her pace accordingly.
And at that point, all chaos breaks out as the page escorting Amelia launches her around the room at a breakneck pace! The announcer turns out to have been none other that Zahnrad's father, Andre. The others Amelia recognizes as some who work for the millers and a few of Zahnrad's other cousins. As the gathering is flinging robes everywhere to get ready to head to dinner, Gunther calls out, "Wait, wait, wait! You forgot a part!"
"What?" Amy calls to Gunther.
Zahnrad groans and rubs his nose. "You didn't … you know she didn't have to … " he starts to say before Gunther cuts him off. "She still has to undo the puzzle box and get the key to the banquet room! Without it, we can't eat!" He then holds up a complex looking box of gears.
"A what-box?" Amy asks, looking confused. "Do I have to figure that thing out, or just open it?" she asks Elsa.
"Well, normally you have to solve the combination," Elsa explains and sighs, "But as an honorary member, you shouldn't have to do this. But … Gunther locked the hall key in the box, it looks like."
"So, why the white hair?" Deirdre asks Roy as the others in the room scramble around.
Amy marches towards Gunther… and then trips over her hem, having forgotten to straighten up enough. She recovers less than gracefully, hikes up her robes with one hand and holds the other out as she closes on the Kadie boy. "Hand it over, Gunther."
"Huh?" Roy asks, taken by surprise that someone is talking to him. "Oh… I bleach it. That way I can tell when I have to trim my hair on the left, by looking at how much it's grown out," he explains.
Gunther holds out the box to Amelia. He grins.
"Clever," Deirdre says with an approving nod. She then just reaches up and lifts and moves around the mohawk, apparently curious.
Snatching the odd box, Amelia turns it this way and that to try and get an idea of how it's put together.
Roy raises his hands up, and says, "You don't want to do that… " but it's too late. The scars on the right side of his scalp make it look like a relief map, all hills and valleys covered in brown fuzz.
It looks like a rather complicated and overly complex mesh of gearing and interlocking rods. Moving gears slides various rods around. The goal, presumably, is to get all the rods out of the loop-latches they're currently in.
Deirdre removes her hand and lets the hair fall back down. "Why not? There is nothing to be ashamed of," she notes with a shrug. "It makes you distinctive."
Amelia stares hopelessly at the puzzle for a moment, then sighs and says, "Well, I am a Blacktail still too, so… " She digs her fingers as deeply as she can into the confusion of parts, and just tries to pull the thing apart with brute force.
Roy reaches for a pocket that isn't there, since he's not wearing his smock now. "Oh… I forgot my magnet," he mumbles. "You're, um… Deirdre, right?" he asks.
"Yes," Deirdre says with a nod.
Amusingly, that's all it really takes. With a few good, strong, pulls, the box starts to separate slowly. "Hey… " Gunther says and then is elbowed by Zahnrad. "You're just upset it took you an hour," he says.
Pondering what to say, Roy falls back on things he knows. "The dam looks a lot different than in the original plans. Have you added anything to it yourself?" he asks.
Once the box starts to show gaps, Amy starts shaking it to get the key out faster.
"You've seen the original plans?" Deirdre asks with a bit of a surprised expression. "I reworked some of the channels to provide more optimal flow over the waterwheels. Less waste of the water force in churning around. Not unlike I presume you've had to do to improve the heat flow in your forge?"
After some more yanking and shaking, a key slips out from the box and lands on the floor with a small thump. Elsa pats Amelia lightly on the back and comments, "It's all about doing it your way. Never think you have to do things like we do."
"I cut air passages underneath," Roy says, warming up a bit. "I saw sketches of something called a blast furnace, that generates a lot of heat by controlling how air is pulled up into the fire… "
"I don't think I could do it like you do," Amy says, and squeezes the box back together as best she can before handing it over to Gunther. "Let's go eat!"
"That would help, yes. Did you put any blowers to the air passages to accelerate air movement?" Deirdre asks as they slowly head towards the exit now.
Gunther peers at the remains of the puzzle box and one ear falls over. "It's broken," he says.
"You can fix it!" Amelia says, patting Gunther on the shoulder after she grabs up the key. "And when you do, I'll train how to use your knife without hurting yourself."
"Couldn't make those," Roy admits, rubbing his head. "No way to power them. I just have the old bellows."
"Who says I hurt myself?" Gunther asks defensively and eyes Amelia.
"You haven't yet?" Amy asks, giving Gunther a serious look.
"You have a way to power them, you've just overlooked it. You have enough heat, build a simple boiler and use the steam to power them. You wouldn't need the bellows as often," Deirdre remarks and glances towards Roy. "I can show you, if you like."
"Uh," Gunther says and looks away. "Let'sgo eat!"
"Really?" Roy asks. "It's not a big secret or anything, is it?"
"Not really. Same concept as the dam wheels, just a different source that moves them," Deirdre notes. "I have one requirement, though."
"Oh, what?" Roy asks, sounding a bit wary. He's in charge of Stonebarrow's 'secret weapons' stash, after all.
"Don't be so self-conscious," Deirdre says simply.
"Oh," Roy says, relaxing a bit. "Was I being so? I… I don't get out much."
Amelia brings the key up to the door, and slots it into the lock. Hoping it's the right key (Gunther can be tricky), she turns it while holding her breath.
"You were almost as nervous as your cousin," Deirdre says with a glance towards Amelia. "As for not getting out, are you worried about… ?" she asks and taps the side of her head.
There's a loud click, a dull thump, and then a shower of confetti drops on Amelia. This is accompanied by the sound of several kazoos being played. Gunther just starts giggling manically. The door is open, at least.
"Not really," Roy comments. "I have a hard time getting the smells of the forge out of my fur. Sometimes the coal dust gets in deep, too. It's easier to see if I keep a white patch though. The grease makes me a bit flammable too."
"Just you wait, Gunther, I'll find a way to get you," Amy mutters while brushing confetti out of her hair.
"You fit in here. The smell of grease and soot is common," Deirdre points out. She then rolls her eyes at Gunther and Amelia.
Past the door is the banquet all. A large table is prepared for everyone and each seat even has a name tag. Amelia is … right at the head of the table.
"Thanks," Roy says, perking up a bit. "I bet you have really good soap here too."
Amy takes her seat after finally getting out of her robe, and actually slumps a little in relief. Now I don't have the strength to really celebrate all this with Zahn later, she thinks. Maybe Lili can lend her something 'frilly' like Zahn seems to like…