Reckoning 12, 6106 RTR (12 February 2006) Tasha, Layth and the rest travel to the home of Clan Kerebos, where Layth meets a Snowshoe from the mountains and Tasha meets a friendly Vykarin.
(Aaron) (Amazonia) (Layth) (Tasha)

Sleeping Chamber in Villa Circerae
Tyche's daughters share a large single bedroom within the villa, with one wall made up of archways that open onto the central garden of the U-shaped building. Heavy curtains can be pulled to close off the opening, which are patterned to match the various tapestries depicting Amazonian life that cover the marble walls. There are benches, wardrobes, desks and various other bits of furniture pushed against the walls as well, and thick fur rugs mostly cover the tiled floor. The bed takes up the center of the chamber, a support pillar at each corner rising to the ceiling. The massive mattress is covered in a blanket of woven Lapi fur, as are the various cushions and blankets that pile atop it.

After bathing the night before, Calligenia's guests were brought to this room to rest, although Layth was generally busy demonstrating various massage techniques. Roland had to leave before dinner, due to an appointment elsewhere, but promised to let Lucia know about another member of the Snowshoe family having arrived in Dianus.

Dinner was served in the room, and was of course entirely vegetarian. Aisha voiced some mild concern that Aaron hadn't returned from his tryst with Tyche by then, but Calli's older sister Celosia explained that they probably wouldn't see the buck again until morning.

After dinner, there was some entertainment as several more Lapi arrived to play music, with Layth joining in every so often, to which the does would dance. There was plenty of wine, which had good flavor but little in the way of alcohol, which meant Tasha had to drink quite a bit to get a buzz. It was nearly impossible to keep track of all the various Lapi that came and went from the party, and in the end several ended up staying the night.

By bedtime, even Aisha had lost her remaining inhibitions about nudity, and curled up with the other does in the giant bed. The bed was also crowded with children, by some unspoken Amazonian custom that seemed to require everyone have a coney of their own to cuddle with. Tasha and Layth were practically smothered by children.

The curtains are drawn back as dawn breaks, and various adolescent Lapi file in and out bearing trays of fruit, bread and hot cereals, along with carafes of water, milk and juice. A kettle of tea is set on a small portable stove, along with a covered dish brought specially for Tasha.

Layth sits up, for once having not awoken before the others. This causes him to jerk his head around in momentary concern, then just sigh softly and push his ears out of the way. He reaches over to nudge the now nude Aisha lightly and says, "Time to awaken, Lady Aisha."

Aisha murmurs something and covers her eyes with her ears, unwilling at first to rouse. But Calli and her sisters are stirring, stretching, and often kicking as they wake up. The coneys wake up quickly, already full of energy, and begin to scramble off of the bed heedless of who they have to crawl over. Due to her size and wings, there aren't many spots on Tasha that escape being stepped on or squashed by little Lapis.

"Mmrrph, errf- Who, wha'," mumbles Tasha as she sits up, narrowly avoiding banging her head into crawling coney. She blinks as she looks around, rubs her eyes, and then blinks again. "I 'ad this dream abou' bein' in a funny country wi- … Oh, oi, no' a dream." She prods a passing coney. "No' a dream a' all."

Layth looks rather lost at what to do, given he's used to being up and serving people … not being the one who is served. But, he finally decides on something that he can do, and eases his own way out of the bed so he can get Aisha's and Tasha's clothing ready for them.

Layth's movements rouse Chloe, who was sleeping next to him. She gives a quick squeak at having woken up late, and hurries off the bed to begin setting out clothing for the others. The stay-over party guests simply pick up their own clothes on their way out.

"Allow me to do that, Layth," Chloe says as she tries to keep the buck from doing anything.

"But, but," Layth starts, then remembers that it might offend them to do it for them. "Are you sure I cannot do anything to help?" he asks lamely and smiles at Chloe.

Chloe seems at a loss for moment, then suggests, "Perhaps you could fix a breakfast plate for Aisha?"

After squirming out of bed and standing up, Tasha stretches, extending her wings to the ceiling and crossing her arms behind her back. "You're tryin' too 'ard to be 'elpful, Layth. Let 'em do their thing an' sit down for once," she tells the buck in a stretch-strained voice.

"Ah, right," Layth notes and goes to do that instead. "I do not mean to offend, I am just … used to doing these things," he admits to the doe. And then with a look to Tasha, he says, "If I'm not helpful, I have no purpose."

The younger sisters, Agalaia and Basilia, are already wide-awake and picking bits of fruit. Calligenia forgoes breakfast while she performs her morning calisthenics, and Celosia kneels at a small shrine to pray to Ashtoreth.

"Then rejoice in bein' useless! Does a flower, or a tree, or a … whats-it 'ave a purpose? No' likely," Tasha insists. "Cap'n Eyeshine tells me I'm useless li' once a day, 'specially when I'm on me break. You think it's rude if I talk in Standard li' this?"

"No, it is just… loud," Aisha comments as she finally stirs and stretches, being the last one in the bed. "But that was… I have never slept so comfortably before."

"Flowers and trees do have a purpose, they make the world more beautiful," Layth points out with obvious Khatta reasoning. After finishing up an assortment of fruits, he takes the plate over to Aisha. He can't help but watch Chloe, though, with apparent curiosity.

Chloe has set out tunics and togas for the Lapi, along with some special robes for Celosia and what looks like 'casual' leather armor for Tasha – a boiled leather halter and pleated leather skirt.

Engraved bowls of water (for washing, apparently) are also set out on a low table. After her morning prayers, Celosia goes to bless the water as well.

After stretching, Tasha wanders around a bit until she spots her clothes. With a shrug – the Vartan having accepted casual nudity fairly quickly – she walks over and picks her top up. "Nice an' shiny, jus' the way I like it." She tosses that over her arm, then eyes the armor placed with her clothing. "Is this for me?"

Aisha nibbles on the food Layth brings her, and also begins to get dressed. "So, did you dream that you were in a harem last night?" she coyly asks.

Chloe nods to Tasha. "Do you wish something different?" she then asks, assuming the Vartan was displeased with the selection.

"No… I've been in a harem before, Lady Aisha. Well, sort of a harem, anyway," Layth notes to her as he starts pulling on his own clothing. He tilts his head and grins slightly towards her, "Why do you ask, Lady Aisha? A thousand pardons for me asking, but do you wish to be my 'harem girl'?"

Aisha blushes and hides her ears. "I was only teasing. You were the only adult buck in a bed full of young women, is all," she says.

"I never 'ad me own armor before. When I- … Oh, oi, Standard." Tasha clears her throat, then repeats in Amazonian as best she can: "-When I go' shot wit' an arrow once, the Cap'n told me "you walk arrow off now – no loafing!" li' he does." 'Cap'n' ends up being translated as 'boat chief.' "An' it's nice an' all, I'm jus' no' sure 'ow to put it on."

Chloe seems confused by Tasha's story, since the Jupani-Vartan is supposed to be a visiting warrior. It doesn't last long, however, as she gestures for Tasha to sit on the edge of the bed. "I will put it on for you, forgive me. Warriors have attendants to see to such things."

"Ah. Well, I'm not like Master Lightfoot. I do not get so … easily excited, I suppose. It would be rude to act that way as a guest of theirs," Layth explains to Aisha and pats her shoulder lightly, then smiles at her. "Sorry for teasing you in return."

Finishing her workout, Calli wipes her face with a towel, which she then folds over her shoulder before going to the breakfast table. Curious, she lifts the lid on the covered plate to see what it is. "Oh… this must be yours, Aldara," she comments towards Tasha.

Tasha takes a seat, and shrugs to Calli in a 'I don't know what I'm doing' sort of way. To Chloe, Tasha says, "In my … tribe, we jus' fight in our tunics mostly. It's nice to 'ave actual armor an' such." Looking back to Calli, Tasha tells the doe, "I'll be righ' over in a moment!"

While Chloe ties the various straps and buckles of Tasha's armor, Aisha gets up to pour some tea, asking Layth if he'd like any.

"Ah, shouldn't I get that?" Layth asks Aisha, then finally looks defeated with everyone trying to do things for him. "Yes, I would, please."

Aisha grins at Layth's predicament, and pours him some tea. On the wall behind her, a tapestry depicts the fall of Dianus to the invading Amazonians. There are many depictions of felines stuck to the end of lances.

Layth looks obviously displeased at the picture behind Aisha. Given he was raised by Khatta, it's not terribly surprising, really. He doesn't say anything about it, though.

"If you need to remove the armor quickly, just ask for help," Chloe explains to Tasha once the armor has been fitted to her.

"Armor's a bi' tighter than I though it'd be," Tasha remarks after a minute of being belted in. "I think I can ge' used to i'." Ears suddenly perking, Tasha looks around until she spots Calli. "Sorry Chloe, I should talk to Calli now. Thanks for the armorin', I'll jus' leave me other outfit 'ere." After putting the dancer's attire down, Tasha stands up, inhales sharply at the squeeze of the belts, then stalks after Calli.

Layth shakes his head and looks over to Chloe. "I didn't get a chance to give you a massage last night," he tells her, tilting his head a bit. "Would you like one this evening? You have been very helpful and kind to us."

Calligenia is filling a bowl with fruit and cereal, and smiles to the Vartan when she approaches. "The cook has made you something special, Aldara," she says, and gestures to the covered dish next to the kettle.

Chloe rolls her shoulders at the suggestion of a massage, then nods. "If it would not be too much trouble, I would appreciate it," she says softly.

"I feel li' one of them wrapped sausages," Tasha whispers to Calligenia when she arrives. Peering over the doe's shoulder, Tasha eyes the meal that's been made for her.

"It would be no trouble at all," Layth tells Chloe and smiles. He then glances back to Aisha and asks her, "What business do you wish to attend to today, Lady Aisha?"

The plate is larger than the others… almost a platter, really. It's covered by an ornately decorated upturned bowl, which seems depict a series of monsters engaged in either combat or romance.

"I'd hoped to… well, just look around, perhaps," the golden doe comments, looking out into the courtyard garden. "The architecture here is so beautiful."

Tasha eyes the bowl, brow raised, ears askew, until she finally says, "It's very pretty. I guess I jus' turn i' over?" She reaches over and plays the one-shell shell game.

Layth nods. "As you like. I am at your command," he tells the doe. The buck then finally gets himself some breakfast and eats quietly for a bit.

A puff of steam escapes as the bowl is lifted, revealing a sizeable steak topped with what is probably a cheese omelet – although there's no telling what the eggs came from.

Tasha's tail wags. "Now this is a breakfast!" After licking her chops, she glances at Calli and tells her, "I wan' to talk to you abou' business in Amazonia, so you wan' an' sit down wi' me while we eat?"

Calli wrinkles her nose for a moment as the smell of the steak really hits her, but doesn't object. "What do you wish to know about our trade practices?" she asks.

"Well no' 'our' trade practices, no' yet, anyway, bu' your trade practices. See, I was thinkin', Calli's all abou' tradin' wi' the … Demon Lands, it is. Well, wha' 'appens? You ge' some fool cap'n an' e' sells your lot to a fool cat. Tha' makes me think, who can Calli trust; an' the answer is me! I came all this way, didn't I? You saw wha' I can do! If you invest in me, why, I could ge' you your own airship, an' I could 'andle all your trade meself! No more gamblin', an' no worries abou' the Cap'n turnin' you over to the authorities." After delivering her sales pitch, Tasha grabs an eating utensil and crams some mystery egg in her mouth. As she chews, she watches Calligenia's reaction intently.

Calli seems to take a moment to process everything Tasha has said, then eats some of her own meal before replying, "I will consider it. But first I must show that trade is possible and beneficial."

Tasha knifes up her slice of meat, then pops a slice in her mouth before saying, "Fine wit' me, it is – an' if you wan' I can 'elp prove trade is beneficial! Been tradin' for years, I 'ave."

Layth finishes eating his breakfast and returns his dish. He pauses there, resisting the urge to clean up or do anything that the slaves would normally do. So, he walks over to where he can look out over the courtyard and see what is going on.

The courtyard is already busy. Gardeners move about manicuring and trimming the topiary while various Lapis mingle together. A table is set out, and Tyche can be seen there wearing a brilliant orange dress toga while she talks to does from other clans, by their looks. Aaron is also seated at the table, looking a bit worn out, and even Zig-Zig is there, eating a hearty breakfast.

"It appears Master Lightfoot survived his evening with Lady Tyche," Layth tells the others. "Ah, and I think Zig-Zig may also be with them."

"Did you say Zig-Zig," inquires the Vartan, looking up from her meal. Moments later Tasha is cramming down what remains of her steak and eggs, informing Calli that, "I'm thrrghrm – there to 'elp you," and "jus' ask if you rmr-mrm … -thing."

"Yes, your suitor is out there eating with them," Layth notes and motions out into the courtyard towards the group. "I'm not sure you should go speak with him, though, he is with the queen… That may not be polite to interrupt."

From his vantage, Layth can see (and hear) that Zig-Zig is flirting with an antlered Gogran doe sitting next to him. Aaron just seems to smile and nod a lot whenever the conversation turns his way.

Tasha pauses mid food shoveling. "Aww! Fine, then, I'll jus' talk more wit' Calli 'ere."

"In fact, he's flirting with one of the does," Layth tells Tasha. He then glances towards Calli and asks her, "A thousand pardons, but will you be introducing us to your mother? Or would it be better if we did not talk with her?"

"Speakin' o' which: Calli, wha' does Amazonia need wit' tradin', anyroad? I mean, you got a lot 'ere," Tasha asks Calli. When Layth informs her that Zig-Zig is flirting with someone other than her, she glances at the doe and gives her a glare.

"I'm sure that mother will want to see you tonight, after regular business has been concluded," Calli tells Layth, then turns to Tasha and says, "There are many things we do not have here, Aldara. For example: indoor plumbing. The clans vie for influence, both with each other and with the gods. Those who can offer up rare things, or obtain special knowledge will increase their status. For Hydron, that is essential, since we don't not have Warriors the equal of the other clans, who surround us."

Layth nods to Calli, saying, "All right. I was not sure what would be acceptable." His attention returns to the courtyard. "He's now complimenting the doe on her beautiful ears and horns," Layth tells Tasha, apparently going to give a play by play on Zig-Zig's flirting.

Tasha nods as she listens to Calligenia, and even manages to not look surprised when referred to by hew new name. "So you wan' rare an' interestin'? Rare an' interesting for Amazonia, tha' is. Rrr, I'd 'ave to look in to tha', see wha' you need an' then think on where I saw i' last. Thing is, Cap'n Eyeshine di' most of our tradin'. I learned a lot, I did, bu' 'e knows even more."

An unfortunate bit of steak gets soundly impaled by Tasha's knife after Layth's comment, the woman giving the doe another sound glare and mumbling something to herself.

Layth glances back at Tasha and reminds her politely, "It is Zig-Zig's role to sire children, along with being a gladiator. It is likely all business to him. I'm sure he uses such lines often."

A Warrior approaches the table, and bows to Tyche. It's not clear which clan she's from, since she isn't wearing armor, just a tunic and shorts. But the dirt-colored doe towers over everyone, and is even a head taller than Zig-Zig as he stands and excuses himself, taking the Warrior's hand and leading her across the courtyard to another curtained room.

An irritated "mmmm," is Tasha's response.

"Yes, you should not take it personally, Aldara," Calligenia says.

"Mmm, a warrior has escorted Zig-Zig away now," Layth tells the others, apparently fighting the urge to do something useful by being a relay. "She's huge too, at least a head taller than Zig-Zig. Cannot tell the clan."

Aisha blinks and whispers to Layth, "Well, I think that I would take it personally."

Layth looks at Aisha and smiles. "Would you take it personally if while you were selling some property, that the buyer also complimented the property of another seller?" he asks the doe.

"Yes, I think that I would," Aisha says. "It is a common tactic in bartering, I know, but still… "

"Ah, well, then I guess I cannot use that as an example," Layth admits with a shrug. "I will note the doe he was flirting with isn't as near as pretty as you are, Lady Aisha." He glances at Tasha, then tells her, "And not nearly as exotic as you are."

Tasha props her head on a hand and asks Calli, "I guess I'm okay wit' people 'ere now? Everyone thinks I'm a doe, so could I look aroun' the city?"

"You should not go about unescorted," Calli notes.

"You could go with Lady Aisha and myself," Layth notes and looks to Aisha. "Right, milady?"

Tasha sighs, glancing at Zig-Zig, and then nods to Calli. "Okay."

With Zig-Zig gone, the antlered woman starts talking to Aaron, who gets a brief look of panic. Luckily, a coney runs up to whisper something into the buck's ear, which causes him to smirk and stand up. He says his apologies to the table, looks around until he spots Layth, and heads for the room.

"Incoming Master Lightfoot," Layth declares.

"Oh good, you're all awake and dressed," Aaron says as he enters. "I've been summoned to Kerebos Keep by my uncle Xerxes, and asked to bring along Layth and anyone else who wishes to visit."

Layth looks worried for a moment, then remembers that the other snowshoe is there and relaxes. "And a good morning to you too, o' returning conquering hero. Was the battle exciting?" he asks, nose twitching with amusement.

"I managed to get by with only a few minor wounds," Aaron tells Layth, without much humor.

The Vartan turns and waves to Aaron, grinning at him. "Did you use your spear well, then? Haha, I'd love to go. I don' think I can get much done aroun' ere yet," she answers.

"Oh? Did you need the wounds treated? I'm sure Tasha is skilled in first aid," Layth replies with a polite smile.

"I have many things to attend too, or I would like to come along," Calligenia says, then looks to her sisters. The younger pair seems eager to visit a 'rustic' villa, while Celosia begs off, having duties at the temple. Chloe remains quiet, but begins setting out some comfortable walking sandals.

Tasha winks at Aaron, then hops up to saunter over to him and tug his ears. "Must 'ave been drivin' you crazy."

Aaron "acks" and tries to recover his ears. "Ow! No, I'm fine… she didn't break the skin this time," he claims.

"Pity you didn't have the shiny pants last night," Layth tells Aaron, then elbows him lightly. "And here you were telling me how afraid of her you were … and you went off for an evening with her."

"That was just to save Calli," Aaron says, rubbing the back of his neck and glancing over his shoulder back into the garden. "She still scares me."

Layth pats Aaron's shoulder this time and says honestly, "Glad to see you are okay, Master Lightfoot. I was a bit concerned. A thousand apologies, I am afraid concern doesn't keep me from teasing you." He grins and flips his lop-ears to the side.

"I always knew 'e was a randy sort. You should 'ave seen 'im twitch when I was gettin' me portrait done," Tasha declares, before pinching Aaron's cheek.

"Then perhaps you can help keep his urges under control?" Layth inquires of Tasha.

"You should not be so cruel to Aaron," Aisha comments. "At his age, he has enough worries."

Tasha grins all the more. "'E'd 'ave to make me an' offer, beat out ol' Zig an' 'is cousin," replies Tasha.

Aaron seems to have mixed emotions to Aisha's defense of him. "Err, in any case, I can get plenty of Tears from Kerebos," he notes. "Shall we get going then? I'll have to have the twins back by dinner time."

"You can get over needing drugs by immersing yourself among women. You should work at the Harem Club for a few months," Layth confides to Aaron. Then louder he says, "Ah, certainly. We can leave any time." He extends his hand to Aisha.

The golden doe takes Layth's hand after getting her sandals on. Chloe stands ready, apparently intent on following wherever her charges go.

Layth slips on some sandals and extends his free hand to Chloe. If she's going, he figures he can treat her like the others.

The non-Lapi nods slowly, placing a hand on her hip. "I'm ready when you are. Got to ge' used to wearin' this armor, an' I'd like to look aroun' at any rate," Tasha answers. After a moment, she adds, "Call me Aldara, Aaron. Tha's what they've started to call me, an' I figure I should fit in, I should – an' I li' having a surname o' sorts."

Tasha just gives the sandals a funny look, ears perked, mouth twisted in a smirk. She lifts up a hoof and wiggles it at Chloe.

"Aldara?" Aaron asks, then says, "Well, I suppose it's appropriate… but you should know that 'gift' in Amazonia could also mean 'sacrifice'," the buck notes.

A ride in the back of a Vykarin-drawn wagon makes the trip from the center of Dianus out to the Clan Kerebos territory slightly more convenient. It would have been much more convenient if the roads beyond the Kerebos city gate had been paved. There seemed to be quite a lot of farmland to traverse before arriving at the Keep itself.

Kerebos Keep
Encircled by a high stone wall with watchtowers and guarded gates are a collection of Olympian style buildings forming a small village. Dominating the center is a gigantic marble villa; the central courtyard alone could accommodate a mansion. Decorative olive trees, fountains and terra-cotta statuary dot the compound, and help to distract from the fortifications surrounding it.

"I presume you have been here before, Lady Chloe?" Layth inquires of the tan doe as he peers out of the wagon.

The servant doe shakes her head, looking around with wide eyes. There are a lot of Vykarin about, certainly more than have been seen in the city itself so far. "So this is rustic – not having close neighbors," she comments.

"It's rustic for me as well. I'm no' used to bein' in the country. I mean, in the country an' no' far in the sky above i'. We're mostly about town an' all," remarks Tasha as she peers over the side of the wagon. "Lots o' Vykarins this way, there are."

"I've been all over the world, really," Layth tells the tan doe. "I worked in a caravan. I've seen deserts, forests, and many amazing places. I wouldn't really call this place rustic. This is … nice. Peaceful. I think of rustic as beaten and worn."

The Vykarin pulling the wagon brings it up before the main entrance to the villa, a huge arched doorway between marble pillars, with a bas-relief of a three-headed monster above it. "We must be early," Aaron comments, when there doesn't seem to be a welcoming party already waiting for them.

"Or they have already been conquered and a trap is in wait for us," Layth notes jokingly. He then looks at Aaron and says, "Or … they're waiting to surprise you with something, perhaps, Master Lightfoot?"

"They aren't big on surprises here," Aaron says, and hops out of the wagon so he can help Agalaia and Basilia down.

"Maybe they think I'm a 'orrible monster 'ere to invade them from inside a wagon!" Tasha waves to the battlements, ears perked, apparently just to be obnoxious.

"Master Roland liked the idea of teasing you," Layth notes as he disembarks from the wagon, then offers to help Aisha and Chloe down.

The two does accept Layth's aid, and once the wagon is empty the Vykarin trots off towards an outbuilding with it. "Hey, you're early!" hails a familiar voice from the entryway, as Roland steps out into the morning light.

"Hiii Roland," Tasha calls out, waving to him as well. "Nice place you 'ave here!"

Layth takes the arms of both Chloe and Aisha's into his and turns to face the voice. He dips his head politely to Roland and smiles. "A thousand apologies if this is an inconvenience for you. Shall we wait a bit longer in the wagon?" he asks.

"No, there's no inconvenience," Roland says, then grabs Tasha about the waist and dips her back. He bumps noses with the Vartan, and asks, "So, did you take up Zig-Zig's offer yet?"

Tasha suddenly giggles, grinning widely. "I didn't! 'E was too busy flirtin' with some other doe, I mean … rrr … doe, to pay attention to me," she answers.

"Your cousin is smooth," Layth notes to Aaron.

Roland lets Tasha back upright, while Aaron just looks to the sky beseechingly and tells Layth, "He's always trying to compete with Zig-Zig. He knows the chances of getting Tasha pregnant are next to none."

"All the better for her. She loves the attention, Master Lightfoot. The game is the excitement, not the outcome. Would you not enjoy beautiful people showing you atten … ah, no, you wouldn't," Layth notes to Aaron.

Aaron sighs, and says to the other buck, "I just want the attention of one particular person, Layth." A bit louder, he asks Roland, "Is Lucia about?"

Tasha winks at Layth after his review of the game, apparently agreeing with him. She then pinches Roland's bottom and leans against him. "I may 'ave to stay in Amazonia if this is 'ow it's goin' to be. I can settle with bein' a doe," she says.

Roland returns Tasha's pinch, while saying, "She should be back from patrol any moment now." He then beckons Calli's twins over to give them hugs, even gives Chloe a peck on the cheek.

When it comes to Aisha though, the big mostly-black buck just kisses the back of her wrist in a more gentlemanly manner.

"Then tell her how you feel, and often, Master Lightfoot. I can offer some suggestions on wooing her, if you like?" Layth whispers to Aaron.

The Vartan eyes Roland when he gives the doe a peck on the cheek, then steps away from him and stretches her wings as she looks at the keep.

Aaron clears his throat, and whispers to Layth, "There are complications. She's not your typical doe, any more than Aisha or Calli are. I'm moving at a comfortable, safe pace for now."

Layth nods and pats Aaron's shoulder. "I wish you the best then. I mean that," he whispers to the other buck.

Like the buildings in the city, the Kerebos villa is almost pristine looking as it shines in the morning light. Another gate in the curtain wall is visible to the north, through which a trio of mounted riders is passing. When the light hits them, the two armored in bronze seem lost in the glare off of the third member, who shines a glaring white.

"The white one must be Lucia," Layth observes as he watches the riders pass through the gate. He looks at his golden extremities to his own snow-white body and suddenly feels a bit self-conscious. And honestly looks a bit nervous.

Tasha's eyes widen at the sight of the glistening warriors, her mouth parting in a soundless cry of amazement. She stands there, dazzled, even as the warriors approach.

The riders come closer, stopping at the main entrance. The two bronze-clad ones are larger than the white one, as are their Vykarins. Older coneys appear and begin stripping the armor from the Vykarins once the warrior women dismount. They give Tasha an appraising glance, then march silently into the building. A single coney attends to Lucia's mount, which is also pure white. The Valkyrian doe dismounts, and bows to Roland. She's almost petite by Amazonian standards, barely taller than Roland himself. Instead of bronze, she wears a mirror-finished silvery armor, and her helm has two horns sticking from the sides.

The helmet is lifted off, and the white doe looks over Layth with cool blue eyes. "You must be Layth, I presume?" she asks.

Layth shifts uncomfortably where he's standing, then bows deeply to the white doe. "I am. It is an honor to meet you, Lady Lucia Snowshoe," he replies when he comes back up.

The armored doe then embraces Layth, and gives him a surprisingly long kiss on the mouth.

Apparently struck dumb by the stupendous degree of polished armor, Tasha seems entirely oblivious to being looked over. In fact, the only movements she makes, beyond staring gape-mouthed, is to slowly turn to follow Lucia, trip over a rock while doing so, and stare from where she had fallen on her butt.

Layth isn't quite sure what to do! His fingers splay out at his side and in the middle of the kiss, he manages a small squeak of surprise! Once the kiss passes, he pushes his ears back over his shoulder and babbles, "Ah, I should say my name while living in Valkyrian mountains was Chrysanthos. It's an honor to meet someone who also is from that area."

Tasha reaches up and rubs her eyes, either trying to fight her bedazzlement or not sure Layth just got snogged. "Who, wha," she stammers.

"Ah," Lucia says, her nose twitching. "We may distantly related, I did not feel a closer kinship when we kissed," she explains, letting go of Layth.

"We just trace our parents in Abu-Dhabi to find such things," Aisha says very quietly.

"Wha'," Tasha repeats, squinting and sounding lost.

"Well, welcome anyway!" Roland says, throwing his arms around Lucia and Layth.

Layth blinks and shakes his head. "Ah, well. I would have been surprised if we were related," the buck admits, looking rather meek for the moment. "It's been a long time since I … " he adds, then jerks in surprise when Roland suddenly throws his arms around him.

"Oi, that's a powerful shiny, tha' is," Tasha declares slowly as she tries to get up. Staggering back to her feet, she rubs her eyes again, then her butt.

"Lucia, this is Aisha, one of Anysia's business partners and a cousin of mine by marriage," Aaron says, introducing the golden doe. "And this creature with the loose jaw is Ta- Aldara Tasha, a friend of Calligenia's."

Another hand rubs Tasha's rear comfortingly. It happens to belong to Lucia's Vykarin though.

Tasha waves, pauses, then eyes the Vykarin. Shrugging, she pats the gigantic shelled mammal on the head and then tells Lucia, "'Ello. You're right shiny, you are!"

"You can talk?" Lucia asks, somewhat surprised as Tasha addresses her.

The Vykarin click-pops something, then slurps Tasha's cheek.

"If I can', 'ow did I jus' say what I did? Or 'ow am I talkin' now?" Tasha answers, grinning. "'Course I c- oi!" She blinks at the Vykarin and, not knowing what to say – or what he or she said – tells it, "Yes, thank you for rubbin' me bottom."

"A thousand pardons, but if it is all right for me to ask, I would like to hear of the Valkyrian mountains and the state of things there while we visit?" Layth asks Lucia, then adds, "It has been a long time since I was there and I am curious as to the clans and tribes which remains. But, if you do not wish to speak of it, I understand." He then offers Aisha a weak and nervous grin.

"I assumed you were some sort of Vykarin," Lucia admits. "Hudak seems to have taken a liking to you, too." The Vykarin, Hudak, bumps Tasha with his snout and clicks something else.

Tasha nods slowly. "I know, no' the first time someone's thought I was a Vykarin. Wish I knew wha' all these clicks an' pops meant." She turns to face the Vykarin again and bends over enough to look Hudak levelly. "I don' know wha' you're sayin'!" Then she bumps her nose back. "'Ow's tha'?"

"I will be happy to talk with you about such things," Lucia tells Layth. "But first I must wash the road from my fur," she says apologetically. Her coney attendant is already starting to undo her armor.

Hudak wags his tail as Tasha pushes back, and then pounces on the hybrid! "Oh, he thinks you are cute, and possibly a messenger of the sky-gods," Lucia remarks.

"Ah, do you wish help with that? I was trained in methods of grooming," Layth inquires, then adds, "But, please do not take that as a suggestion you need help with that, of course."

"Thank you for the offer," Lucia replies, then looks down at her coney. "Would that be alright with you, Coeus?" The boy looks up at her, then at Layth – seemingly fascinated by the golden patches – and finally nods his consent. "Very well, you may attend to me then, and we can talk of the mountains," Lucia tells Layth.

Tasha may be big in some lands, but not here. In fact, she's not even remotely large enough to stand up to a Vykarin tackle! She falls over easily, landing on her back. "Oof! You play rough, you do!" She grabs Hudak's muzzle and shakes it a bit, playfully. "An' I do come from the sky, bu' I 'avn't met any gods. At least no one what said they were a god. I don' 'ave any messages, either."

The Vykarin whurfs through his held muzzle, and Roland comes over to assess the situation. "Let me know if he is bothering you, Aldara, or if you'd wish to spend some time alone with him. Hudak has been very popular among the Vykarin cows, and has sired three children already."

Layth bows to both Lucia and the coney. "Thank you. If there is anything you do not wish me to do, Coeus, please tell me. I do not wish to encroach on your duties," he tells the child. The buck then fetches his small pack from the wagon where he keeps the usual items he always carries. He looks to Aisha and Chloe, then asks, "Ah, a thousand pardons, but you will not need my for a bit, will you?"

Aisha seems torn between following Layth and Lucia's conversation, watching Tasha wrestle with a Vykarin, and wondering why Aaron keeps looking down and shaking his head. "I… uh… I'm sure Roland and Aaron can look after us," she says, looking to Chloe for confirmation. The servant doe nods back, while trying to explain to Tyche's daughters that they shouldn't try to ride a warrior's mount without the warrior there to help them.

"I'm feelin' righ' popular," Tasha tells Roland before she grabs the Vykarin in a headlock. "I don' know abou' time spendin' though. I'd feel a bi' odd, not knowin' 'is language, or, rrr … " The woman gives the dog-like humanoid a once over, then blinks. "I never thought like that!"

Coeus rummages through his own bag, and hands over a bottle of something pungent to Layth, saying, "Her left calf was injured a while ago, and the muscle can stiffen up. Rub this in."

Layth takes and kisses the back of Aisha's hand. "Thank you, Lady Aisha," he tells her. The then turns to the coney and accepts the bottle with a nod. "Before, or after cleaning the road dirt?" he asks the child, "And how was it injured? Was the muscle cut, or pulled?"

"Well, if you want him to stop, just reach up and scratch his neck under the shell," Roland says, grinning.

"Punctured," Coeus says. "Zaki bite."

Layth nods and frowns, "Damage, then. Permanent." He nods, then asks the coney, "Shall we go and tend to your warrior indoors and in a more pleasant environment?"

Tasha reaches up, scratches the Vykarin, then shoots Roland a suspicious look. "Ey, wait a minute!"

Coeus nods, and leads the way through the central garden. "The baths are this way," he says.

Layth bows again to the others and heads off with Coeus and Lucia.

Hudak's tongue lolls out of the side of his mouth, and he falls over onto his side bonelessly from the scratching.

"What did your father want to talk to me about, Roland?" Aaron asks his larger cousin. "Oh, he didn't. I just thought you'd appreciate an excuse to escape Tyche for awhile." "Did I ever tell you you're my favorite cousin, Roland?"

"And now," Roland says, clapping his hands together. "What would you lovely ladies like to do first?" he asks Aisha, Agalaia, Basilia… and by extension, Chloe.

Tasha rubs Hudak a bit more, then squirms until she can get free and stand up. There, she pats Hudak's head and then dusts herself off. "Now where's everyone goin'?"

"The warriors will be washing up," Aaron tells Tasha. "But there are places you can wash off the slobber before it dries and hardens. I think that Agi and Basi want to ride Vykarins though."

"We go by Laia and Lia, actually," Basilia corrects.

"I would enjoy a tour of the villa and other buildings," Aisha says, smiling to Roland.

"I think this Vykarin wanted to ride m-" Apparently remembering she's in unusual company, Tasha grins around and then says, "I'm no' sure wha' to do. Sounds li' Layth 'as some catchin' up to do, an' he don' need me takin' all the action. I'll jus' 'ang aroun' ere, I will."

Throwing an arm around Tasha's shoulder, Roland says, "Very well, a tour and riding lessons and soap it is."

Behind Tasha, Hudak begins to snore…


GMed by BoingDragon

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Today is 16 days after Harvest Tide, Year 27 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6126)