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Things that throw Trucks in the Night 4: Giving Thanks

Posted on Tue Jul 31st, 2012 @ 2:25pm by Guardian Brann Connolly & Fae of Sky Maus & Fae of Fire Cat Random & Celestial Angel & Mystic Zachary Craft & Unknown Draco Sandrino & Zumbe Jericho Stark & Unknown Hulga Jorgmansdottir & Unknown Kyort

Mission: Sinister Whispers...
Location: Stark Academy, Auditorium and Dining Hall
Timeline: 11.24.2011, 0810AM through to 500PM

In short order Thanksgiving had rolled around and the "friendly" payers had departed the prior morning, a bit sad to be having to leave their new-found friends. But in a little over a month and a half, they're be back. Personal email addresses had been given and cell digits to text back and forth during the holiday so new-found friendship could continue to bloom, even in the New England winter. Breakfast had been light that morning and as had been the course since the violence against them, the orphans were still in the auditorium though they knew something was up. Vans and delivery trucks had been brought in over the prior week and though Jericho had forbidden them and apparently meant it enough to all but imprison them in the auditorium for hours at a time, things had been brought in and there was work going on.

The lower level, previously known as The Dungeons, was off limits to them and the doors were kept locked when there was nobody in down there working. When there was someone working down there, the doors were still locked but occasionally someone saw Diego come upstairs and occasionally Victor, Ras, Olathe and Hulga. And when they saw Hulga, she was usually carrying something big, bulky and covered in tarp she had pulled out of her Forge down some hidey-hole Cat didn't know anything about.

Thanksgiving morning, orphans woke at their usual time despite having gone to bed rather late the night before eating and watching more really bad movies from the 50's and giggling their way through them. Three things were immediately apparent: Breakfast has been brought in a few minutes before and while there was plenty for everyone, it was very light. That was exciting because it meant Thanksgiving was "on" still. Second, there were no noises from beneath the castle which even at this hour there was something usually going on since the work had begun. Now, it was truly silent. And third, racks of clothing on hangers was being rolled in by Emberline all with name-tags, shoes and accessories as they had originally been before they had been ruined.

Cat let out a laugh as she saw the outfit that she had been planning on wearing for thanksgiving on the rack. Perfect, as if the Payers had never touched it. The crimson velvet corset was held together by black leather straps with silver buckles, the skirt was black velvet with three layers, each split open in the front at a different height and a different length trimmed with crimson lace. The first layer was barely closed at the front and came down to her knees in the back, the next layer was closed at about mid-thigh and reached to mid-calf, the bottom layer was the longest closing at about an inch above her knees and going down to the floor. It made for an interesting image as Cat moved, the skirt parting and gathering around her legs to show tantalizing glimpses of the toned flesh.

However she had things she needed to do before she could get dressed, like finish the little unicorn figurine that she had been making for Draco's little sister. She had met the little girl as she was caring for the young man and had taken an instant liking to her. It was stupid, but she knew that she wasn't going to be able to give Drake anything but she could give his sister a present. She moved along the racks until she found Brann's hanger and slipped something onto the hanger with a mischievous grin. She looked around, not seeing anyone she let out a chuckle and darted for the forge. She had more pretties to make and not a whole lot of time to do it.

Angel did a twirl with her dress pressed to her chest, the skirt twirling out around her as she wooped happily. The dark silver satin gown was strapless and fitted down through the hips. The silk looked like it wrapped around her body in different swaths and folds, in two places the sections were encrusted with tiny black gems and gears matching the jewlery that thankfully had been in her small lock box. The shiny satin of the long skirt moved and clung all at once and hid the high, high heels she found with them. She had a small gray top hat with black feathers to finish the look with long gloves and heavy bangles.

Zach watched as Cat and Angel seemed excited that their clothes had been returned. Zach went up and found his had been replaced. What he found on the rack was very different than his "the Mormons Supper Club" outfit. First off there was a pressed 19-century style white button down with long cuffs in and a navy pinstripe jacket with tails. A matching top hat, suspenders held in place the navy pinstripe pants with stirrups, buckle-over silver buckle shoes and spats. There was an ear-clip for his ear done as a hydra, the various heads each with a different tiny gemstone for it's eyes. The single piece of jewelry was done so the snake-like body cupped the back of the ear and the heads all peeked around it mischievously. And in the top hat there was a single piece of glass and feather, constructed to look like an otherworldly eye of some sinister reptile watching for things he couldn't see.

There was even underwear specially constructed from stretchy supportive fabric like spandex that had no seams and wouldn't show through the pants and thick socks for the shoes.

"You're old enough and made enough progress to be expected to dress appropriately for dinners and especially the high holiday meals," Emberline explained primly as she spread the coat lovingly, "though I had your preferences in mind, you'll find the materials are sturdy and of stretch fabric, allowing you to move however you need to and retain their shape. The hat, sadly, won't survive a fight so please don't ruin it if it can be helped hmm?" she asked and gave him a loving pat on the cheek.

Zach's face turned flush red to match his hair. "Yes ma'am, I will protect the hat as much as my skill allows" he replied in a polite tone. He left the clothes on the wrack to go train before getting cleaned up for the meal.

"Which is prodigious," Emberline said as she watched him trot off and grinned.

Maus smiled as he pulled down his clothing, a low-class bowler and black-plaid jacket with white button down and sapphire blue bow tie. His pants matched the jacket and the shoes were actually boots and were mostly hidden in the pants. The jacket had pockets for various things, the bowler would hold his goggles just fine and even the boots had an inner cuff for storing small objects, such as tools. He still had his jewelry from the night everything had been ruined and with the tie, it would all work perfectly well.

Brann's eyes lit with joy as he set eye on his outfit. A man's Victorian waistcoat with split tails with a white, wing collar shirt with mother of pearl buttons. To bind the waist he found a laced leather corset and a bustle skirt of black to match the coat. Add to this a stately top hat with a red rosebud tucked into the band and a pair of women's Victorian boots in black leather with two inch wide panels that showed a scandalous hint of skin. Interestingly, hanging with the outfit was what looked like a gold and copper clockwork pendant wound around a clear ruby. It hung from a red silk ribbon. "Oh, wow," he breathed in wonder. "This is... this is beautiful!"

"Yes, ma'am!" Brann rushed to get ready.

Cat gave herself until three before she started to stress getting ready. She ran by the racks, grabbed her clothes and took a quick shower. She was clean, dry and dressed in next to no time. She looked at herself in the mirror and was glad to see that the fading bruises from the scuffle with the Payers were completely hidden by the top ruffle of the corset. Her shoulders were bare as she wrapped a sculpted dragon around her neck. The head of the lizard rested on her right collarbone, staring at any who would try and approach her with red glass eyes. The dragon's body wrapped around the back of her neck and around until the tip of it's tail rested on the same spot on her left collarbone as the head sat on the right. She had taken the time to make the creature as lifelike as she possibly could, though she had decided that the panel against the back of her neck would be a flat side view rather than putting that much weight on her back. She twisted her hair up into an ornate concoction of braids and loops until not a strand hung over the dragon. Then she went looking for Angel. Cat sucked at putting on make-up and she knew it, she was lucky that she braided and twisted wire so much that she could braid her own hair without a worry but make-up still eluded her.

Angel was meticulous in her ready making, a shower in which she pampered herself, shaving away her excess body hair until every inch of skin was creamy smoothness, washing her hair with the special shampoo that brought out the copper gleam in her hair, and then letting the conditioner sit for nearly 10 minutes to ensure her curls would be perfect without a hint of frizz. She applied her make up while a towel soaked up most of the moisture from her hair, black liner and mascara set up sweeping silver eye shadow the same shade as her dress but made of layers of four different colors that set off the shape of her eyes. She took her time with the curling iron, using it to finish drying her hair as she pinned each curl in place with strategic bobby pins until the entire mass sat atop her head save for one curl that would lay along her collar bone. It was because of this careful work that Cat found her standing in front of the mirror in only her short satin bathrobe and g-string, pinning her top hat in place. But she'd laid out everything she would need to do Cat's makeup and had a stool waiting along with a sheet to cover her so that the makeup wouldn't get on her lovely dress.

Grinning Cat sat on the stool and wrapped the sheet around herself. The only time she really wanted to sit still and let Angel do her make up was on holidays. Otherwise she looked at it as a waste of effort. Well technically it still was a waste of effort but holidays were about looking and feeling your best and so Cat did the best she could. She sat quietly watching as Angel did whatever it was that she did to make her look like a million bucks. Cat figured she'd never get it down, but she didn't mind.

Angel knew that Cat was only the first of many to come, it was one of the reasons she hadn't put her dress on yet, only once she'd dolled up all the others would she finish her own preparations. Angel seemed to have an innate understanding of the face and where to put what color to make someone look outstanding. For Cat it was warm tones of copper and bronze to set off her dress and contrast her eyes. She even applied false lashes to her already generous supply to make the entire look pop.

Once she'd finished Cat, Angel found the handful of other girls that just didn't have the knack for red carpet quality make up waiting for her, already wrapped in sheets of their own and looking hopeful.

Zach walked in to the shower room reeking of sweat that still poured out of him. He was covered in smooth white skin that was marred only by the occasional scar on a well muscled body. He looked at the line of girls without really seeing to where it led and shrugged. Normally seeing girls in the showers was no big deal but all them at the same time with sheets wrapped around them was a surprise. Thinking that this was the line for the shower he stood at the end of the line waiting for his turn.

"Zach, sweetie." Cat looked over at him with a small smile. "What are you doing?" She cocked her head to the side and looked around at all the girls waiting for their make up.

"Waiting to take a shower" he replied flatly. "Why are these girls in bed sheets?" he asked with confused look on his face

"Because they're waiting to get their make up done and don't want to get it on their clothes." Cat said softly. "Sweetie you might wanna go to the showers in the boys locker room. You're likely to get in and out quicker in there."

"But I'll happily do your make up once your clean," Angel said, sending a dimpled smile his way as she worked on another girl who'd asked to have a peacock feather design on her lids to match the feathers in her hair.

"Boys locker room? Funny." Zach laughed as scratched the are where his geometric tattoo was on his left chest. He took his towel off hung it on a wall hook and walked over to an empty shower head. He began showering seeming oblivious to the stares of the females.

Cat shrugged and gave Angel a sunny smile. "You need me to run and get you anything sweetie?" She asked, not really sure what to do with herself now that she was ready.

"Yeah can you go get my second set of brushes from under my bed?" Angel already had at least four brushes sticking out of her mass of curls and another two in her fingers as she worked on a young blond girl's eyes with wide sweeps of turquoise and gold.

Zach padded out of the shower room after weaving through a bread line of girls getting ready, having grown up around the orphans all of his life where such things as nudity were not taboo he had his towel on his shoulder as he made his way to the auditorium. He looked up and notices for the first time a sign sitting out side of the locker room he just exited, it read "Girls" and then he saw another one that read "Boys". He tilted his head for a moment and said out loud to no one "why would anyone name a room "Girls" and another one "Boys"?. He shrugged after a moment and padded off naked to the auditorium.

Brann passed Zach strolling buck naked toward the auditorium. He admired how Zach had grown over the past few years and sighed wistfully. "I'm so glad the Payers are gone."

He reached the shower rooms and chose a stall near the line of girls to listen to then. He finished quickly, washing his short red locks and scrubbing down every inch of deep tan skin until he stood squeaky clean. He threw a towel around his waist and used the superior mirrors in the girls locker to shave and groom. Once he wiped up he collected his bathroom kit and called to Angel. He gestured to the towel around his waist. "Unless you have a spare, I have one towel. I can keep it around my waist or move it to my shoulders."

Cat grinned and tossed her sheet towards Brann. "You can use mine if you want." She shrugged and sauntered out of the room on a mission to get Angel her brushes.

Brann caught it, "Thanks!" He stepped into the boys locker to dress not for sake of modesty but because it was less steamy and he had more room. He returned a short time later garbed in his gender-bending best, sheet over his shoulders. "Ready for your magic touch when you are, Angel." He smiled at his orphan sister.

"Oh I have something special in mind for you baby," Angel said waving her brush like a magic wand and reaching for a small plastic box, she started with subtle sweeps of reds and oranges with a thick gold liner that came to a point then dark liner to set off his eyes. As a final touch she added sticky gold dots strategically at the corners of the eyes and a bindi for his forehead.

Brann looked at the finished look in the mirror with a bright grin of approval. "Angel, that is awesome, as usual, thanks!"

Angel beamed taking a moment to slip in her dangley black stone earrings that sparkled as they moved and turned her back to him so he could clasp the heavy matching necklace.

Meanwhile, Maus had made it into the men's showers and gotten clean, brushed teeth, cut nails and cuticles and gotten his own makeup on. His outfit required a bit of makeup to emphasize his theme. Eyeliner emphasize his eyes and a smear made them look a little dirty, a teardrop in black on the top of his right cheek was the final touch before he pushed his hair back and made a dash for his clothes and the dressing room in the auditorium's backstage area.

Pike lumbered by like a hairless kodiak and grinned pleasantly at Maus. Maus smiled up at his through his reflection in the mirror as he finished up.

In due time the Procession began, as all the students above the age of ten appeared in their finery and lined up, two-by-two with their roommates beside them and in order from seniority and academic superiority, which meant Maus dragged Brann with him into the front.

Maus, shorter than even most of the eleven year-olds, wore a dapper low-class bowler hat and black and brown and yellow plaid suit with matching pants and his goggles on the hat. His ears wore his sapphire studs, he had both of his bars in and apparently had put on black lipstick and black eyeliner he'd smudged. In effect, he looked rather like a gentleman ghost.

Zach felt like a clown in his clothes. They were frivolous to him and he did not understand the point of them. Either way, the adults said this was required. He did like the fact that he could move in his clothes and that he had full range of movement in them. He stood next to Pike, the moss gathering boulder as they had been roommates for so long Zach could not remember not sharing a room with him. It was a well thought out decision as Pike had become a point of stability to Zach and had calming influence. Of course some times that calming influence was sitting on Zach until he could calm down but those instances were fewer and fewer.

At the last minute Angel dove into her dress holding it up while Cat zipped it then pulling on her gloves and bracelet. Thankfully she'd put everything else on before doing the others makeup so that was all that was left before she and Cat hustled into line.

Cat grinned over at her friend as the got into line. She had put in her earrings, studs that she had shaped out of red glass to resemble gems. Looking at the boys who where a few rows ahead of them Cat bit her lip and bounced on her toes slightly. She couldn't wait for dinner, all their favorite foods and all her favorite people together in one place.

Brann stood beside Maus and put in his gold earrings, one in each lobe and two studs on the left side. He donned his top hat, making sure the rose bud stayed in place and slipped a hand around Maus' waist. He offered Maus a kiss, "Looking good as always."

"Somebody's got to make sure you're presentable," Maus kissed him back.

As all the clocks in the large castle struck the hour, the tall double-wooden doors to the dining hall opened at the head of the procession to reveal the Kitchen Pigs in their uniformed finery of black tailed coats with white tunics underneath, ruffles at the throat and white pants and black leather shoes with curly white wigs standing at attention. Betsy stepped into the gap and looked at the Procession as it stretched back and around the corner. "You all look worthy to eat at a meal this fine," she told them with a broad smile, her seal of approval given, she backed and spread her arms, biding them enter and take their positions.

At the far end, the head, of the long dining table stood Jericho. To her right was Bubbles, her left was Hulga, then Kyort next to the giantess and Victor across from him, Ras next to Victor and an empty seat across from Diego. Olathe stood next to the empty seat with Emberline across from him with an empty seat next to her. The procession of faculty continued down until all but one was accounted for, despite two empty seats. Names were on the plates of the fine white porcelain china with the gold rims and they matched the rankings the students already knew about, the only formal ranking withing their structure and all based on performance. But mysteriously, there were two empty seats int he positions that Maus and Brann would normally be sat and they were one down.

Pike and Zach were right behind Cat and Angel in the rankings, due to the average of their achievements academically and in their extra curricular earnings.

Laid out on the gigantically long table, covered with a fine white cloth, were no less than ten turkeys and six beefs bourguignon spaced out evenly. There were about fifteen casseroles of sausage stuffing, the same number of buttered summer corn with garlic, heaps of rolls, green beans, cabbage, stewed greens, green peas with butter and black pepper and praline pecans topping sweet potato casserole. There were pitchers of cold tea, water and bottles of wine open and breathing already.

Zach leaned over and whispered to Pike in a rare form of humor, "Damn Pike, looks they only brought enough food for you. What are the rest of us going to eat?"

With measured precision, the mass of residential students entered in their finery and split at where Betsy stood, she smiled and greeted them all by name and always had something nice to say about their outfit and their efforts to look nice, all the way down to the youngest and of course, last, to arrive. Once they had passed her, she turned and still standing, faced Jericho until all the children sat and were looking at Betsy for her approval.

Only once had Betsy not give her approval and Jericho had overridden her because Maus had played a prank on his fellows and gotten several other people spattered in dye. Luckily, it had been the "disappearing" variety and had evaporated Jericho's ire. Maus hadn't escaped punishment but Jericho had waited until after dinner to let him have it.

Maus had the dubious honor of having been the only orphan ever spanked by Jericho.

Not even Betsy had ever smacked any of them.

Betsy nodded, her cheeks rosy with pride and then she turned and gestured for her people to join her to one side as they turned to watch the opening ceremony before joining the others for the meal.

At that moment, four people entered the same door the Procession had come through, three familiar faces and one completely unknown. Those who had been looking at the faculty or looked quickly enough saw Olathe's jaw drop before he went "stoic Native American" again. Summer, dressed in a feminized man's suit from the Victorian period entered standing between two younger people, one Draco and Bennedette, his little sister.

The new person looked Native American and was fairly tall for a woman, her features beautiful and exotic, her hair long straight and black with black eyes. She wore a collection of Native and Victorian garb, feathers and silver ornaments here and there with strings of silver around the top hat with the eagle feathers hanging down the back. She wore a long-vest double-buttoned with silver buttons in black with white Indian drawings on it of seals and dolphins with no shirt, revealing black seal and dolphin tattoo band on her upper right arm. She wore a black broom skirt split up the front with layers of creamy ruffles underneath and tall folded over knee-boots with buckles all the way up the outside. She also wore a gun-belt with two very serviceable machined revolvers with silver filigree inlays and ivory butts. She also wore a choker with a gigantic ivory fang on it around her neck of silver and jade sections.

Angel's face remained a perfect mask of joyful acceptance though inside she was in complete turmoil, the unknown woman was one thing but what were Drake and his sister doing here? Her eyes slid to Cat, watching her through her long fake lashes for her reaction.

Cat's smile fell as she saw Drake and Bennie standing there. She was shocked for a moment as she just stared at the pair of them. Suddenly things had opened up between her and Drake to pursue an actual relationship and she couldn't decide if she was angry or scared. She stiffened in her seat as she determinedly looked at the food spread out on the table. She wasn't really hungry but it was the safest place for her attention. It was going to be a very long night for Cat.

Brann looked Drake and Bennie over. Summer and the staff dressed them to fit in with the orphans and the new woman fit in too. It looked like they were getting additions to the family and that meant -- Draco and Bennie lost their family. Brann nodded to both of them in sad understanding. He caught Cat stiffen out the corner of his eye and stare at the food in front of her.

He kept his expression neutral but in his imagination he implored the heavens. ~Dear gods,~ He breathed a longsuffering sigh. ~any that might listen, please take Cat before we have to endure her yowling all... fucking... winter.~

The only way Brann figured that might happen might be to get Cat and Drake in bed -- FAST. Plans began to form. Conspiracies hatched like baby spiders casting their webs to the wind and taking fight in leg-wriggling, cackling glee.

This was going to be fun.

Angel caught Brann's eye, hers flickering between Cat and Drake then back to Brann. She moved her head in a tiny fraction of a nod, she was going to be a willing accomplice.

Maus smirked, the hints of devilish glee playing at the edges of his lips.

"My children," Jericho spoke softly but her voice carried as it always did, "we have new siblings and a new aunt joining us today. You all should know Draco and Bennedette. They are your new siblings and I trust you'll show them what that means and help them get used to such a large family," she gestured with her hands slightly as she spoke but folded them now. "With them is Eileen Wavedancer, a new member of the faculty and someone who has known both of them almost their entire lives. Make no mistake, I've known her for nearly twenty years and trust her implicitly. She teaches several subjects but with her presence, I now have enough instructors to cover firearms training. Building the new firing range will begin a week from yesterday and I know several of you are keen to learn about bullets," he gestured to Eileen, "I will leave it to the experts, Olathe and Eileen, to ensure your knowledge and safety." She gestured for the children to sit next to Maus and Brann and Eileen next to Olathe, who glared at Jericho once before going stony again, "Please, join us."

Cat was grateful that Jericho had put Drake with Maus and Brann. She wasn't very hungry despite the fact that she had only eaten a small breakfast. Seeing Draco as an Orphan had completely killed her appetite.

Draco held out his sister's chair for her and took his own spot, keeping his gaze from anyone else until they were both in place and then turned his eyes up to look at Jericho.

Brann sat beeline up the table from Cat and he made a point of smiling warmly at Drake, while in Cat's direct view of Jericho. He flashed his orphan sister the tiniest little smiles. Something only they shared between them. That changed when Jericho mentioned firearms. Brann pondered how that might change things next year. Firearms would be good training given how many in the outside world depended on them. The philosophy of Aikdo taught to master a weapon in order to learn how best to defend against it.

Zach ears perked at the statement of firearms training that would be a subject he would have to study and master. His stomach rumbled though and on instinct almost started to go get his food before he could move he remembered the rules and settled in for the wait. He nodded at Draco, while not at the level of warrior as himself rumor had been he held his own admirably. To pass the time Zach reached into his coat and pulled out his sacred not book. He was currently trying to finish up some key elements to his new fighting science and figured it would be a good way to ignore the louder rumblings of his belly.

Pike gave them his wide accepting smile and tapped Zach's foot gently under the table to get his attention and gave him the 'look at Jericho' hint.

Jericho was still standing which meant she had more to say, or she was just torturing them, or both. either could be amusing to her, depending but most would have had to say that they'd had enough to deal with already so she probably wasn't stringing them along on purpose. "Due to the unfortunate events of just over a week ago, the residential students' wing fondly called The Dungeon had been closed because, in some cases, there was a biohazard in place. In the week that's passed, the faculty have been busy employing our skills and time to make it habitable and," she paused and panned the students' faces, "somewhat improved. When you are finished with dinner, feel free to be excused to the newly renovated Dungeons."

And with that, she sat in rather stunned silence.

Looking at the table still Cat debated going down to the dungeon rather than staying and eating. She really wasn't all that hungry any more but she still wanted to spend time with her family. Though she really was excited to see what had been done to her and Angel's room.

Angel put her hand on Cat's arm, signing out of sight of the others, ~Look beyond your own feelings and see what's really there. Look at Bennedetta's eyes, they are puffy and red rimmed, look at the set of Drake's mouth, the shadows under his own eyes. Save your judgement, enjoy this meal with us then we will all get to the bottom of what's going on here.~

Cat's jaw tightened as she signed harshly. ~I wasn't judging them.~ She was angry that her friend and sister would think that she would miss the obvious signs of pain in others. It was saying a lot about the fear and hurt that she was feeling herself that she didn't go over and try to comfort both of them.

~I didn't mean judging them, I meant your own feelings,~ Angel signed, ~I can tell you are about to rabbit, please don't, please stay here with us.~

~I was already planning on staying.~ Cat signed back. ~Just, I can't talk about it right now, okay?~ She turned her attention back to the spot on the table in front of her. The setting was perfect, just as it always was and she studied it in detail as others started to talk around them. Cat was the kind to run from her emotions and so she fled into the ideas that forever danced in her head about projects she planned on doing the next time she was in the forge.

Brann thought over it and while he looked forward to getting back to his rusty manacles dangling under a barred port hole he found he liked the special moments. Staying up late watching black and white horror movies, sleeping on a futon with the warmth of a crackling fire and the company of his fellow orphans nearby. The unexpected warmth and support from staff. Had the Payers never destroyed the dungeon he would have missed all of these special memories. Of course he and Maus stood to get their privacy back and with privacy, the resumption of their nightly reindeer games. Still, Brann felt sad at going back to how things were before.

"Your face is like a comic book," Maus told Brann with a snort. "Seriously, just because we have rooms, the network isn't going down and the projectors bolted to the fucking ceiling in there. Movies at night is for us and the special people we share it with," Maus told him, giving a head motion to Drake and Bennedette, "and other cool people who don't get the privileges of being us and living in a castle all the time." He had piled a plate with creamed potatoes with butter and cream mixed in them, so light and fluffy they were like eating clouds and were one of Betsy's signature dishes. He's filled that with gravy, laid a slice of beef on one side and a slice of turkey on the other and added corn, "Pass that down to Cat, she's on your side, so she'll eat something. Once she gets that sour taste out of her mouth she'll be good." He grinned.

Zach went a filled his plate full of vegetarian dishes and ate calmly. He was curious as to what "upgrades" meant. He was also curious as to what the hell was wrong with Cat. He understood Orphan sign as well as anyone. He signed to Pike ~Draco and his sister appear ill. ~ He then shoved his mouth full of food.

~Their parents just died~ Pike signed back ~that's hard for people who had parents and for us its hard to imagine what that would be like~

~Well, then that makes sense why they are here now, I guess~ Zach thought a moment. He was unable to get it and just shrugged and move on.

One of the "Kitchen Pigs" came over and set a small bowl next to Zach, filled with a goulash of fresh vegetables that had been sauteed and served over a seven-grain mixture Betsy knew he liked. She had made it with spicy peppers, to make it tasty without burning him up and in it she had made sure there was the special bean curd that had the consistency of well-done scramble egg, or beaten chicken breast as a protein boost with the mushrooms that formed part of it. Sometimes she used beans of various kind, edamame, black or even a puree she mixed into it when she made him stew in the deep winter when others were having chicken noodle.

Zach beamed at the dish and felt what he was sure was excitement. "Thanks you" he said in a rare honest display of joy.

Pike grinned as he left and signed at Zach surreptitiously ~Rory likes you~

Rory, one of the Pigs, was studying cooking under Betsy and shaved his head most of the time. He worked out assiduously, kept a short beard, which he had proudly begun sporting this year. He also studied Odate Sensei's Karate style and was really well skilled with staff and batons. Like Zach he was well muscled and kept himself very lean and had begun to get a tattoo between his shoulder blades, from the rumors.

~He shows promise as a fighter, though he lacks balance and I get along with him~ signed Zach back. Oblivious to what Pike was trying to share.

Pike placed his face in one hand and heaved with silent laughter.

Angel was filling her own plate but when she saw Brann with the laden platter for Cat nudged her friend to look that direction, "You have an admirer." She said it intentionally since it was Brann passing the food not Drake.

Cat looked up and saw the missing plate in front of Maus. "Yeah, Maus." She said with a laugh, his actions making her smile despite the emotional turmoil she was feeling. "Here, pass this back up to him." She handed Angel her empty plate so that Maus would have one for himself.

"My hand is getting tired." Brann huffed at Cat's delay. He handed the plate to Draco, "Make sure she eats? She can be a complete ass about it."

Drake's cheeks darkened as he took his plate but he did as he was told setting the plate in the place she'd just vacated as Angel took hers. "Eat," he said, "Or I'll tell Bennie on you and you don't know nagging until you've been over mothered by an eight year old."

"Eight and eleven twelths!" Bennedetta protested, "I'll be nine in January."

Maus took her plate and got a whole thigh, a wad of mashed potatoes and gravy with stuffing and steamed asparagus with hollandaise over it. He glanced at the head of the table and Jericho was already eating a plate so, having missed the formal napkin tuck he had no problem starting on the stuffing first. A little spicy with sage and basil, the garlic toasted aged breads that went into the stuffing and the turkey broth made for wonderful tastes. Onion and celery roots, steamed and chopped with mushrooms and black pepper gave it texture and flavor distinctive from any other dish.

Cat rolled her eyes and took the plate from Drake's hand. "Thank you." She said with a level of cool politeness that she normally reserved for Payers. She set the plate down in front of her and began to play with it with her fork.

Brann piled his plate high with dark meat turkey, stuffing, and gravy. As he moved between dishes he gestured in sign surreptitiously where Cat could see him. ~If I see you haven't touched your food by the time I go for seconds, I'm going to send Drake with plates of food until you eat.~ He looked her in the eyes, and gestured with a flourish. ~Get over it, have fun, or else.~

He flashed her a sweet 'You'll regret it if you don't' smile as he sat and dug in to eat.

Looking over Cat gave him an evil glare. She took a small bite of potatoes before she looked down and began to design a new dragon in her mind. Angel liked the cutesy cartoonesque ones that she made but Cat preferred the realistic dragons, well as realistic as dragons could be. She thought and tried to think of something to talk about that wouldn't bring up anything painful for anyone.

Her down-seat neighbor was Isabelle, a black haired gypsy-looking girl with creamy skin and wide blue eyes who had dressed in a "done-up stocking-striped barmaid" sort of outfit. It was strapless and the corset was cinched well and sat on her hips with a piece than made them look wider than they really were to give her more "girly bits" than she possessed in real life. She leaned over and whispered to Cat shyly, "That's a piece. What can I trade you for one like it?"

"Depends on what you're good at." Cat said with a shrug. "Also I can make you something that is your favorite animal rather than a dragon." She offered looking over at Isabelle. "I have fun making them so..."

"Racoons," she said instantly and smiled. "I love the little thieves."

"They are cute, do you want it to wrap around your neck so that the head sits in the same place as my dragon's head?" Cat said thoughtfully. "I can also make something out of glass for it to hold. If you want."

Isabella grinned, "A gold coin would be beautiful, if you can color the glass."

"Bennedette," Brann called across to the little girl. "What's your favorite animal?"

"Pegasus," Bennie answered instantly.

Drake glanced at Cat then, saw that she was in deep conversation with another student but had a real smile for the first time that night.

"No problem coloring the glass, or I could even make a gold coin for him to hold." Cat said pointedly ignoring Brann's comment.

"Gold is expensive," Isabella replied wistfully, "and a glass coin should be affordable. But what do you want for it?"

"You never did tell me what you were good at." Cat said as she thought about what she wanted to do for the piece. She had plenty of credits and should be able to get enough gold to set up the coin for Isabella. Though really the glitter of glass would make the piece sparkle a bit more.

Brann continued his chat with Bennedette as Cat desperately engaged in conversational obfuscation. He leaned across the table with a conspiratorial little smile."Pegasus is awesome! I bet, if you asked nightly, Cat could make you one."

Drake's expression stayed completely neutral as he kicked Brann gently under the table. This exact thing was what Drake was going to give his little sister for her birthday, possibly Christmas now.

"Oh you know me," Isabella chuckled, "try a lot of things, master none of them. My attention wanders from one shiny thing to the next but I'm really excellent at finding treasure in the trash."

Cat could almost read Isabella's roommate's stare of "and this is why she loves bandit-like rodents so much; she is one in disguise".

Laughing Cat thought for a moment before giving Isabella a grin. "How about you find me some treasures and we'll work out a trade?" Cat would have been happy to give Isabella the piece and if she had had time before Christmas would have created the piece as the girl's present. However now she knew what to make for Isabella for Christmas.

"Deal," Isabella nodded.

Brann gave Drake a cross look and signed, ~What?~ before he remembered that Drake never learned their sign language. He leaned close and whispered to Drake, "What did you do that for?"

Drake saw that his sister wasn't paying that close of attention, "That happens to be what I am giving her for Christmas."

"Oh, sorry, I didn't know." Brann apologized and leaned closer, keeping an eye on Bennedette out the corner of his eye. "I knew she liked Cat that would give Cat a good excuse to check on her -- and you." He paused a moment and added, "You might have noticed but Cat's really shy and knowing her, she won't know what to say so she'll stick her head in the forge. That's bad for her because she really cares about you and Bennedette."

"I appreciate your input, and I have no intention of letting her hide from me," Drake said in a very respectful tone and a bit of a twinkling smile, "but, with all due respect, mind your own bees wax." He and Cat had to figure it out for themselves.

Brann leveled his blue gaze on Drake. "Bees wax," he repeated in stony disbelief, "You're gonna have to do better than that or else the podlings are gonna eat you alive. Still," he shrugged, "I grew up with Cat. I know her. I know what's she's like. Don't crack the plaster when you beat your head against the wall." He stopped and gave Drake a studious look, "Now I see it. You're made for each other."

"I'll tell her I have your walrus of approval," Drake said dryly.

"When you two are done comparing cocks," Maus said at a conversation tone, "maybe the rest of the table would like to participate in conversation?"

Zach quickly finished up the reminder of the meal. Not wanting to talk over the others, he signed to Pike. ~I am going to check out our rehabilitated living quarters.~

~You can't leave yet~ Pike told him ~Dessert hasn't been served and people want to talk to you and visit~

Zach looked confused ~What are we going to talk about?~ Zach had finished and was rarely one to stay around to "socialize". He had a hard time relating to his peers in a normal social setting and it made him uncomfortable to be around them in gatherings like this.

"What about your latest weapon design," Pike said verbally, since signing was generally to keep people out of your conversation and that was directly against the point.

"I call it the Dragon's Tongue. It is based off something I heard the Payers talking about once. It is a lenticular blade but wide like a khonda blade from Asia and ends in a point. The length of the balde starts at 48 in" and snap extends to 60", took me all year design and build it, Helga demanding that use katana folding process and while that takes enough time for one long blade it gets" he paused as he searched for a the proper word "challenging. The mechanism has as safety that is turned off when ever enough pressure is put on the hilt. After that is turned off you have to do a hard stabbing motion for the extension happens. It triggers at the end of the snap. The way it is designed it will stab on the way in but tear on the way out. You should see it, it does not wiggle or shake loose or anything. I etched the blade in such a manner that you can not see the seams in the metal" Zach said quite proudly.

Brann perked up, as he loved swords. "Zach, you never told me about that one. I want to see sometime."

"It is designed according to your biometrics, so it would make sense that you use it," Zach replied factually. Zach did not know how to express appreciation.

"You made it with me in mind," Brann beamed wickedly. "I'll put it to good use."

"Zach, why are you finding the katana folding process challenging?" Cat asked looking over at him with curious eyes. She might prefer making jewelry and smaller more delicate pieces but she knew how to make the larger more deadly weapons as well. She had basically been apprenticing with Hulga since she could toddle and so while she split her attention between metalworking and glassworking she was still far more advanced at either than a normal apprentice would be at her age.

"I did not find that process it self challenging. Folding and refolding one complete blade is fine. Folding a refolding 25 separate pieces 20 of which must have an edge but also must meet precise measurements was the hardest part. Challenging was not the first description I was looking for. Sorry for not clarifying better. " Zach replied.

"I wouldn't call that challenging, I'd call it fun." Cat said with a chuckle as interest flared in her eyes. "We'll have to sit down in the forge some time and work on it."

"Fair," replied Zach.

Angel finished her moderate plate of food and sat back in her chair, resting her gut while she waited for dessert to be served. As she waited she watched everyone, and relaxed into the gentle cacophony that was home. She smiled at Zach, glad to see him here with them, though she knew it made him less them comfortable, she still gave him one of her best smiles.

Zach nodded in her direction and attempted to be... social, "Hi, your outfit looks much better than the sheet you were wearing earlier," he said with total honesty.

"Thank you, that was just to keep the make up off me so I wouldn't get it on my dress when I put it on," Angel said with a smile, "You look quite dapper yourself."

"Thank you" he replied.

Cat finished her food after a while and leaned back to look around her family and smiled slightly. She would figure out what to about the whole Draco situation after she'd had a couple of days to figure things out.

Brann saw the main course was winding down and an idea hit him. He curled his lips in sly anticipation, took up his wine glass, and stood. "My family," he called for attention. "Before we move on to dessert I want to formally welcome our new siblings. Draco, Bennedette," he gestured with his glass to each, "May you find every warmth and comfort you need. May every question find answer. May every hurt be tended. May you never know hunger or thirst because we're family. We're here for each other, always. Welcome," Brann sipped from his glass, nodded cordially between Draco and Bennedette, and resumed his seat.

"Here, here!" came the shout from three dozen throats as glasses were raised.


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