Fajitas Part 3: The gifts of Jericho
Location: The Forge
Timeline: December 9th, 2011
Tags: Zach,Brann, Angel,Cat,Drake,Bennie,Maus,Forge,Food,Presents,Pretzels
"Ahem?" Maus called and grunted and as they all turned to face him, he had pulled up the covered basket Jericho had dropped in with the odd two-toned cloth on top. Pike had actually had to help him and as the two of them set the basket down, it became apparent that the basket was actually made of metal and looked like woven reeds.
Angel resumed her seat on the edge of the blanket waiting patiently.
Drake turned Bennie in his arms setting her in his lap.
Brann sat, nervous and excited about the strange gifts.
Zach opened his new Journal and started jotting down his Martial Arts Equations on the first pages. While he never talked about them to anyone including Pike, it was something he was always thinking about.
Maus pulled the cloth off of the top and there was a small card attached to it. He flipped it around, grabbed it and read it and handed it to Angel making a face. "It feels weird to me," he said as he handed it over.
Angel took the cloth and spread it over her lap, it was soft, like a chami cloth but with no nap, smooth and shiny. She turned it over in her hands, noticing that it was metallic gold but turned crimson as it moved. It was cold almost like metal rather then fabric but moved like cloth. She read the tag aloud, "The Angel's cloth, see it shine and shimmer, in day's light and the moon's glimmer, yet what is cloth but a fabric to some, yet for those who have need without end can it become."
Looking around at the others her brows went up, "Any idea what that means?"
"Need without end..." Maus considered, "you can use cloth for a bag, a towel, a shade or a blanket. But that's, what, metal? And, you know, it kinda looks like something I've seen you wear recently so.." he made a 'you know what I'm talking about but there's people in the room who don't know yet so I can't just come out and say it' and then flicked ::Cloth for an Angel probably does odd things?::
Cat glanced at the image of Angel that Brann had drawn of her. She thought that maybe the cloth had something to do with that. ::Maybe something to do with the picture? Your armor perhaps?:: Her hand moved rapidly beside her drawn up leg.
::It might be what becomes my raiment,:: Angel's fingers flicked, having to spell out the last word and hoping Drake didn't notice, ::I'll have to play with it when there are not young eyes around.:: She glanced at Bennie significantly.
From inside the basket Maus pulled out a dark bottle, like an ancient medicine container opaque and filled with a liquid of some sort and stopped with a cork. It was sealed with green and black wax and stamped several times with different seals and a silver chain worked into it in such a way that if pulled it would tear it all free. After he read the tiny tag he handed it to Drake with a look like he was creeped out.
Drake followed Angel's lead reading the tag out to the others, "Within this bottle is death for many: the frail, the man, the unwise- not the uncanny. Made of things best not said, yet a panacea for those assumed dead. Drink when all seems lost, when the skin has rotted and the guise is tossed, when only the love of the heart most fond, holds your sanity in their gentle bond." He turned it over and then looked around at the others, "It's signed Summer and has a tiny "J' on it?"
"Summer made it and Jericho signed off on it," Pike volunteered, "and that means it's important." The he used the sign language to the other and made no attempt to hide it ::Way too many key words in that to ignore what kind of thing it is.::
"Not to sound like an idiot but what on earth is a panacea?" Cat asked, her mind stuck trying to define the word.
"A cure-all," Brann produced his smart phone and googled. "A cure for all ills and ailments."
"Not a bad thing to have on hand," Drake said as he peered into the bottle.
Cat bit her lip as she thought over the poem, it sounded like Drake was going to either be sick or dying when the guise finally failed. Though she certainly hoped she was wrong on that one.
::This does not bode well for Drake:: Zach signed.
::Not for a while, but it sounds like it may get better if we have that potion for him.:: Cat flicked back.
::Not 'we',:: Brann nodded toward Cat, ::'You', go back and think about the riddle and DON'T give me that 'but how can I be possibly be his heart's most fond? We're not even (insert lame excuse here)! Get over it, Bella.:: He smirked cutely, knowing how much she HATED the character of Bella from "Twilight."
::Unless he's in love with some other girl.:: Cat flicked back. ::Just because I like him more than I probably should doesn't mean the feeling is mutual.:: Then she raised an eyebrow at him. "And if you ever call me Bella again...." She trailed off as she tried to think of something suitably horrible to do to him.
"I can think of something suitable," Maus told her and shared a devilish look and then pulled out a four-inch square box and handed it to Brann, it was a cardboard box but had been painted in gold paint or applied with gold foil so that there was no visible lid or hinge or paper for him to attack and tear. The tiny tag attached read, "Inside of me is a treasure hid but as you can see I have no hinges nor lid, broken of tooth and bleeding of nail, the man who tries to force me, his mortality will fail."
"Creepy cool magic, I approve," Brann pondered the puzzle. He held the box between his palms as if praying, allowing it to grow warm in his touch, letting it get to know him. The part about "man who tries to force me, his mortality will fail" gave him two thoughts about how to open the box. First, though it might certainly look silly to Drake and Bennie, Brann cupped the box as if whispering confidentially to it, "I'm Brann, can you please show me my gift?"
It quivered, it felt as it something inside it stirred and the center of gravity inside shifted about, before it lay still and unopened.
"Damn," Brann pouted, "Close but not enough. A little help here?" He read the puzzle aloud to his friends.
"That one's pretty mysterious," Pike commented thoughtfully.
::What if Brann isn't the right name?:: Cat's fingers flashed by her side.
"It is living," was all Zach said.
"Duh," Brann mimicked smacking his head with his free hand. "Magic is directed by will and intent. I asked it to 'show' me." He whispered to the gift again, the box clasped between his palms as before. "I'm Brann, please open and give me my gift."
This time the box trembled bit didn't open; less response than before.
"It's an odd riddle," Maus considered thoughtfully. "The fact is that 'man' isn't exactly right is it, since you're not exactly... one..." he finished eying Bennie cautiously. "And the whole mortal thing, with a guise and..." he stopped and cocked his head staring at Brann.
"Um..." Drake cleared his throat, he was trying to stay calm but his eyes were wide with concern, "Did that box just.... move?!" The gifts from Jericho had been odd but the woman herself was very odd... his had confused him but he didn't want to put a damper on all of them by bringing it up. He saw more of the hand flickering, "And what are you guys doing with your hands?"
"Talking," Maus replied to the latter question, ignoring the first one for now. "We talk with our hands and gestures and facial expressions all the time so Payers can't tell how we're so coordinated and how we always act together so well. We'll teach it to you soon," he added.
Zach turned to Drake, "We are not human, this includes you and Bennie."
Cat let her head fall into her hands, "And people say I'm as blunt as a brick wall."
"No, we said you were dense as lead, get it right, Cat." Brann admonished gently.
Maus sighed, so much for trying to be delicate. "Ok. So we're all orphans because our parents dropped us off here to be safe while they were in danger and we've been in hiding all this time. We're not sure if any of them are alive, crazy, dead or what but we've been here either all our lives or so close it doesn't matter. Jericho and the staff have been training us how to fight, to be really competent and to use our skills and abilities to their best potential. Most of us are kind of a genius at something," he gestured to the entire group, "me, literally, a genius with anything that uses or carries electrical current. Zach is a ridiculous unarmed combatant and designs weapons of all kinds, Angel is ridiculous with a bow and aside from being kind of arts and crafts she's our diplomat, Cat makes things in a forge that professionals in the outer-world would have a hard time putting together with a full industrial machine shop, Pike is pretty damned invulnerable and doesn't feel pain and Brann is pretty good all around but he's best at getting in the way of people who need to be taught a lesson."
Angel cleared her throat softly and came over to sit by Drake.
Drake flinched when she touched his hand.
"No, Drake you don't get to flinch from this. Like they said, I am our diplomat and some of them need to learn when to let me do the speaking." This comment was pointed and sharp but she never looked away from them. Her voice softened "But the fact remains we aren't human, or at least aren't completely human. And that includes you," Angel took his hand as she said this, holding it firm in her own. She didn't look at the others, "I can't really pierce the veil reliably so I don't know about Bennie. But no matter what, we are all brothers and sisters, it's this more than anything that brings us together."
Drake made one halfhearted attempt to pull his hand away then glanced at Cat, not wanting her to think that he.... that he what? His thoughts on the whole not being human thing derailed for a second while he worried about another girl holding his hand in front of Cat. He shook himself and looked back at Angel over the top of Bennie's head.
"We've all had varying reactions to the news too. It's really not so bad once you get used to the idea." Cat offered in sympathy. She concentrated on Bennie and Drake, after that first time she had never tried to pierce the guises Jericho had put up for them but she figured that she might as well try.
For a split-second, in that odd between-moments that seemed to happen more and more recently, Bennie appeared sheathed in an iridescent glow of oilslick on the very air around her and a sort of soft glow that seemed the emanate from her skin in a non-ominous fashion.
"Why don't we finish unwrapping the presents and then we can get back to this discussion, give it time to sink in for Drake and Bennie." Cat said softly reaching out and putting her hand on Drake and Angel's hands.
In a deft move that neither noticed, Angel pulled her hand out so Drake and Cat were touching and her hand took Bennie's.
"Good idea, everybody relates to crass materialism," Brann grinned. "Back to my box." He caught glares all around and blinked, "What?"
"Its all about your box isn't it Brann?" Maus chuckled.
Cat deliberately pulled the attention back to the box in Brann's hands, though her own hand remained on Drake's. "Brann can you feel any seams or anything?" She asked cocking her head to the side.
"Nothing," Brann turned the box in his hands. "Zach said it was alive and Maus has a point about...'man' and 'mortal'," he glanced cautiously toward Bennie. He shrugged and inwardly and considered a thought that excited him with the possibilities and frightened him with its implications. Maus' prodding about Brann growing angry when he and Zach battled made sense.
Brann felt afraid of losing his humanity.
He felt no interest in the flesh that covered his face. That did not represent humanity to him. After a short time of thinking he realized that what he considered as humanity was a poetic concept cobbled together from books and movies. It struck him suddenly that he had no real idea what it meant to be human. He knew only how to be Brann and his fear was about losing Brann - becoming something he could never recognize nor accept.
His thoughts turned to Jericho. She gave Brann his flesh. She raised Brann to become what he wanted most in life. She helped him reach his potential in the mortal world and with this gift she said, "It's time to grow, to learn your potential beyond the mortal world." He loved Jericho like his mother. He trusted her implicitly, and this gift in its simplicity taught him the lesson he failed to learn earlier in battle against Zach. He stood back and away from his friends, clasped the box level in both hands, "I'm neither man nor mortal, I'm Brann."
He tugged at the box to open it.
Zach's eyes opened wider the only sign he was slightly surprised by the rash decision. "This could suck" was all he said in a whisper.
The box swelled and pulsed once, hard, causing an answer pulse and swelling in Brann's chest that drove him to his knees gasping, though not with pain exactly. It felt like he had tried to crush his own heart but the golden armor of the box kept it safe from harm. The box toppled away from him and came to a rest in front of him, the golden sheen of the outer skin glimmering and then becoming mirror bright, reflecting his own face back at him in all the sides that he could see, even though most faced away.
"Fuck," Brann gripped his chest, catching his breath. "It felt like I held a steel plate against my chest to block a sledge hammer."
"You okay?" Cat asked turning her attention back to Brann. She cocked her head to the side as she continued to mull over his riddle.
"Yeah," Brann nodded. "Weird but it didn't really hurt, just slammed me, hard." Brann took the box in hand and felt drawn into his reflection, at how he could see his face on all sides, even those facing away. He never thought about it but he quite naturally looked into the facets with his Sight, wondering at their beauty.
"Brann," Pike said and moved over to his side and reached out and plucked the box out of his hands and then gently hit Brann on the forehead with it. There was a soft clang of metal hitting metal but it sounded like a bell and clapper. "When you look at the box you see yourself, it's made of gold, it sounds like metal on metal when it strikes you, it's square just like your brain thinks and nigh indestructible and when you squeezed it you nearly burst your own heart." He looked around and peered into Brann's face with a cocked eyebrow and a gentle smile. "Do we need to dress it in leather, black eyeliner and lipstick before you'll get it?"
"You might," Brann snorted, turning the box over and over in his hands. "I knew the box was part of me when Zach said it was alive. I knew it was not just part of me but it actually was me." He looked at Bennie, "Something Voodoo Bunny will teach you soon enough."
Brann kept his attention on the box. "I understand this represents the change I've been afraid of but I can't force it, I have to-" he stopped abruptly with the look of a freshly dunked cat.
"Probably," Pike chuckled.
"On you if you stay there," Brann threatened with a twinkle in his eye. He turned back to his thought. "I have to embrace change," he clasped the box over his heart as if embracing someone he loved dearly. In fact he did; this was Brann, all the wonderful, great, and terrible things that he hoped to become. "I've let go of my fear. I embrace this change in my life, I welcome it, I want it, give it to me!"
The box shuddered and floated free of his hands and stopped about a yard or so away, literally just out of his reach. It spun lazily on its own for a moment and then suddenly tilted up on one corner and rotated slowly for a few revolutions. A soft white glow seemed to emanate from it, though there was no actual place it seemed to come from, simply being present and growing brighter. As it became as bright as a torch, the box made a sound like huge chains rattling and bolts unlocking, gears turning and large heavy doors opening. Lines etched themselves along the outside of the box and took on definition and depth, became armatures and frames and inner layers of crossed and overlaid plates and bolts that kept getting smaller and smaller as one gazed deeper into it, noticing more and more details.
All of a sudden one of the side-square frame-sections popped out and tiny jets of steam erupted around it and it turned one-quarter as two flanges on attached sides popped loose as if released on springs. Those sides popped out and turned one-half rotation and popped back into place, allowing the top frame to vent more steam and click back into place and then several internal plates shifted. Then entire cube shifted and folded down on itself with more gouts of steam and popping of spans and rotations of sections until it was a quarter of its original volume, now barely two inches across.
It gleamed brilliantly and then the glow shrank away leaving the box shining brightly before it zipped over to Brann and landed on his shoulder, tiny legs and arms popping out, two glowing white eyes in a recessed side looking out.
Brann watched the transformation with gaping wonder, his face aglow in the light of the cube. He watched the details and growth of armatures as they grew more intricate, as if through a window into another world - another life. He blinked, started, when the cube zipped over and settled like a mechanized parrot on his shoulder. Rather, more like miniature Japanese mecha. He felt the same sense of warm connection as before and he scritched the metal "head" wondering if it might care or appreciate the attention.
"Wow." Cat said softly, the little box making her fingers itch to try and recreate it.
Brann peered at his strange little whatever-it-was, "You shit solder on my shoulder and we're gonna fight."
It hissed in response, clearly affronted by such a suggestion.
Cat laughed as she watched it. "What's its name Brann?"
"It understands enough to get pissy when I throw shade, maybe it has its own name." Brann gave it an expectant look.
It blinked up at him.
"Do you really want me to pick your name?" Brann gave it a final chance.
It raised tiny little armatures in what could only have been a shrug and made a small grinding sound.
"I chose to embrace change," Brann shrugged. "That's the obvious name but 'Change' sounds lame. Let's find some synonyms..." he pulled his Smartphone and ran a search. After a few flips he stopped, considered, smiled, and read it out loud. "It's the Japanese word for 'transformation, conversion, and change.' The kanji literally translates 'weird attitude.'" He flicked a look at his little friend. "I think that applies. I like that all of it applies for different reasons." He tapped his little - it - on the shoulder with a single finger as if knighting it with a sword. "I dub thee, 'Hentai.'"
It paused and floated up and then with more clanking, grinding and steam hissing it became spherical. It darted down to his right hand and paused then landed on the back of his wrist and extended thin and rounded golden metal bands that curved and then locked into place, becoming a decorative and elegant bracelet that was a mix of masculine and feminine influences, with gold and silver intermingled in the design and with a folding of metal and design on the back that the eyes refused to follow before they crossed and ached.
"I think it liked it." Cat said with a laugh. "Though really Brann only you would name a part of yourself Hentai." She shook her head and looked over at Maus. "So who's next?"
Maus read the card and had to cover his mouth not to laugh, though he giggled rather boyishly. To Bennie he handed a box a foot and a half long but six deep and nearly a foot wide wrapped in paper with skeletal unicorns pooping out jelly beans and farting out glitter sprays. As she got the package and could read the card, while Maus was softly whimper with laughter to one side she read "Once upon a time a bunny died and then rose from the dead and found the most special and precious girl it could to protect her forever, channeling the powers of the Dark Arts. From it's burrow it rises, needles ready to stab itself to lash out at your enemies and to give them... spots."
Bennie who had been oddly quiet and contemplative for the majority of the night laughed joyously at the paper and showed it to Drake so he could see if closer before tearing away the wrapping and opening the gift. And found the sickly pink bunny with it's floppy ears and knitting needles sticking out of it, she smiled, recognizing it from something the other young girls had all gotten.
Cat let out a little laugh as she recognized the familiar face of VooDoo Bunny. "Now you really are one of us Bennie." She grinned down at the little girl.
The little girl smiled brightly, "This must mean I'm not human either because only the other orphan girls have these..." she frowned then and looked up at Drake then back out to the group, "They don't know yet do they? That they are like us?"
"No, sweetie, they don't know. So far as I know only those of us in here have any idea. Pike has known the longest." Cat said with a fond smile.
"But that does make for a question about your parents," Pike said as he came over and sat next to Bennie, the floor vibrating when his bottom hit it. "In order for both of you to be Immortals, like us, either your Dad and your Mothers both were or just your Mothers."
"I never met my mom," Drake commented in a soft voice, hugging Bennie in his arms. He was amazed at how calmly she was taking all this, but he was willing to soak in her calm and deal with this as well as she was. "I don't think my dad was, or if he was he didn't know. He was always focused on 'the business,'" he half heartedly covered Bennie's ears, "And by 'business' I mean mob."
Cat raised an eyebrow as she looked over at the newest Orphan pair. "We'll figure it out." She reached out and gave his shoulder a squeeze. "However this is not supposed to be such a serious occasion. So Santa Maus, who's next?" She wanted to see Bennie and Drake smile again and though the weighty discussions did need to happen they could be put off for a few hours, or at least until they could get Jericho to answer some questions.
"Pike," he hefted out a large iron orb, about six-inches across, black and unfinished. It had several looping crescent wrinkles in the metal and six iron loops in the sides that looked like they were meant to be connected to a D-ring or a hook or something. Maus read the card, "'From stone leaps iron, from wisdom leaps perspective, from one simplicity leaps multitudes of complexity'." He paused and handed it to Pike who took it and hefted it as with a creak it seemed to become heavier; heavy enough he had to use both hands to set it gently on the floor as he regarded it.
"Could mean that even though things change they still have aspects of the original in them?" Cat offered hesitantly before shrugging. "You have any clues Pike?"
"I have an idea but its going to take me awhile to figure it out completely," Pike replied thoughtfully.
"Who's next, Santa Maus?" Brann moved on.
Maus pulled out a solid dark-gray rectangle of what looked like opaque glass, about a foot in length and four inches on a side. It was solid and heavy and the tag attached to it he read aloud, "'Dance in fire, dance so bright, leap and whirl in the glory-blaze and find me only in your hottest pyre'." He looked across and handed it over, "Clearly for Cat."
Cat took the length and gave it a little flick, trying to see if it sounded like glass. Even though it looked like it that didn't mean it was.
It made a very satisfying brick or stone-like sound. It seemed very solid and came away without a mark.
Cocking her head to the side Cat looked at the bar even closer. She ran her hands over the surface trying to feel the texture and see if it pulled up any memories.
Frowning she continued to stare at the odd material.
"Maybe it's a baby hammer," Brann mused aloud. "That way Cat can flatten her own Payers when they come calling."
"I can flatten them just fine." Cat said slightly haughtily.
“Unless they grab your boobs,” Maus scoffed teasingly, “then you fight like a four-year old.”
"I doubt the payers will be an issue by the time they return" Zach flatly but his eyes glimmered.
Cat stuck her tongue out at Maus before returning to her gift. She turned it over in her hands and processed her riddle. "I have an idea of what I might need to do." She said looking around at everyone with her. "Though it might be a bit more than Drake and Bennie are ready to deal with yet."
Zach replied, "Passion or joy. Don't normal people twirl like idiots when they are exceptionally happy?"
"Or nutbars," Maus murmured.
"I'm not crazy." Cat said with a playful growl. "Passion is probably more to the point; the where is more of what I was focusing on." Her hands flicked quickly. ::The part that talks about glory-blaze makes me think of the glory hole in the forge.:: Silently she started to count to see how long it took her siblings to take that the completely wrong way.
::Isn't that more interactive?:: Brann signed. ::I can see where it might fit but wouldn't it be more fun with Drake?::
::Plus I'm missing the proper anatomy to make use of that kind of glory hole.:: Cat flicked back rolling her eyes. "Though that brings me to the thought of maybe I'm supposed to work it, get your minds out of the gutters. When I was talking with Hulga she mentioned my Passion, for me it's creating things. So maybe that's what it means." And not that she was supposed to climb in the forge and dance naked, especially not in front of everyone. She bit her lip and continued to think for a moment before hopping down off the table.
She walked over and grabbed a clean empty crucible from the cabinet where they were kept and put the rectangle in. "Well here goes nothing. You guys might want to back away from the forge, if this goes bad it could go really really bad." While most people used metal poles to slide a crucible into the forge Cat just pushed it in, the heat not phasing her in the least.
The upper sleeve of her top start to smolder at the range she was at from the flames, the heat withering the fabric a bit. Her hand felt a pleasant tingle but the block, even after several seconds, seemed unaffected by the heat and flames at all.
"Oh do stop that." Cat grumbled at her sleeve before glaring at the inert bar in the crucible as she pulled it out. "You're gonna make me do it aren't you?" She groused. Looking back over at Drake and Bennie she debated. She wanted to know what her gift did, the only other way she could think of to unlock the present was the first one that came to her. Climbing into the forge. Finally she let out a soft sigh. "How good a hold on your sanity do you two have right now?" She asked the only people in the room who were stopping her.
Drake looked at Bennie who had slid out of his lap to sit next to him. She thought about it then said, "It's like it's all part of a big dream, so it's... okay I guess."
Drake nodded, "Something like that."
"Okay." Cat said softly as she thought hard about what she was planning on doing. "So put this in the realm of dreams or nightmares right now." She said finally as she set the crucible with the bar still in it onto the ground beside her. With that she started to strip, pulling off her shirt and pants so that all she was wearing was a lacy white bra and a pair of boyshort panties that just barely covered her ass. While normally she would have stripped those off too, Bennie and Drake's presence kept her from getting completely naked, not because she was shy but because they might be upset by it. Bending over she grabbed the bar and moved to the forge. "Hey Angel can you hook my MP3 player for me?" She called over her shoulder as she swung her feet into the forge, thankful that she had been climbing in and spending time with the flames daily ever since she found out about the effect fire had on her.
Angel picked up the small device and connected it to the built in speakers, then pulled up one of the few songs on the list that she'd never heard of. She figured that would be a safe bet since the pair tended to listen to the same things.
She pushed her feet in first, letting the pleasant tingle move up her legs as she continued to slide in deeper. The expression on her face was blissful but she managed to keep control of her body until she was completely inside the forge. The interior was large enough so that she could stand easily once she was inside and she could hear the beat of the music that she had asked Angel to hook up. The music and the crackling rush of the flames around her combined so that they created a music of their own. She could feel the rush of pleasure that being in the flames always brought though she controlled it just enough so that she could dance. Ever since Cat was little she had loved the art of belly dancing, though she would have denied it to her grave, and so it was something that she had taken the time to try and learn. To that end she began to dance, her body moving to the rhythm that was the flames and the music combined.
As Cat began to undulate the flow of the flames around her changed and followed her, as if she and they were in the same breezes, wavering and twisting in this way and that. And as she danced, tiny streamers of flame seemed to form in her hair, which lifted around her head as if caught in an updraft of heat moving up into the flue.
Brann whipped out his pencil and pad in his pocket and began sketching the fiery beauty before him.
"No Brann," Maus whispered loudly as he leaned over to look at the picture. "Cat doesn't have one of those!"
"Shhh," Brann kept working, "My art, I'll do with it what I want."
Drake had watched but only for a moment before turning away to give her privacy. It wasn't that he wasn't enticed by the sight, he was, and a good portion of him was kicking himself for what he did. But he was a gentleman, and while the others had been around her since she was a young child, he was a new addition to the family and felt as though staring was wrong. He was smiling but just had his eyes averted partially for her modesty and partially to keep his body from reacting in a very visible way.
"You think averting your gaze accomplishes anything?" Brann broke from his sketching when he caught Drake out of the corner of his eye. "She knows how you feel, you know you feel. Hell, we all know how you feel," Brann smirked at Drake, "So you deny yourself the opportunity to enjoy a special moment, a moment that will never come again, and for what, modesty? Consideration for her feelings? Think about those things, Drake. Examine them closely. What is commanding your life - you or words and concepts you've been conditioned to obey without question?"
"You have not been raised the way we have, so it will take some getting use too. You should be warned though you will see students having sex in the showers...often." Zach nodded at Brann and Maus. "Nudity is meaningless for most of us and sex only comes into play for those that harbor such...desires."
"Like Zach who has no sex drive," Maus added with a wink at Zach, "yet."
"He does," Brann smiled from behind his sketch pad, "You should see him on the mat when he scores a particularly good blow."
Zach's cheeks blushed ever so slightly but he seemed not to notice and simply nodded at Brann's statement.
"The way I was raised," Drake said, without any edge to his voice, "a gentleman doesn't stare at people they know naked. While yes, I imagine after some time I will get used to it, for now it's my way of... showing respect and until I am desensitized to it I will continue to do what I feel is right, for me."
"Leave my brother alone," Bennie admonished the boys, she for one was openly watching with fascination, inching as close as she dared so she could get a good view, and showing that she was catching on to the way of things, "this den of voyeurs and exobishonists could use with one gentleman to remind them that not everyone wants to see their junk. He'll get used to it in eventually, no need to force it down his throat until he's ready."
Maus gave her a surprised and appraising look. "Drake, I think Bennie already knows what's-what around here. You need to take your lead from her," he smirked and looked from the younger sister to the elder brother, eyes full of mischief.
Angel snorted with laughter as she picked up Cat's clothes and laid them off to the side, she looked at the shirt and saw that it was pretty well ruined so shrugged out of her cardigan and laid it out for Cat to put on the pile. Cat was a little bustier then her but it would cover the important bits.
Brann laughed warmly at Bennie's toothy and quite accurate retort. "Point taken, Bennie," he gave her a respectful nod. To Drake he added, "Point of clarification is required. I'm not saying what you believe is 'right or wrong.' I want to encourage you to examine your core beliefs closely because a lot of people do things automatically." He paused a moment to reflect. "Beliefs are stronger when you can articulate them clearly, you chose them from alternatives, and you're willing to fight for them."
He looked at Bennie, "There, better?"
"Much," Bennie answered primly, but then she grinned, "And just because he isn't looking doesn't mean he didn't peek!"
"BENEDETTA!" Drake mock bellowed with a laugh, picking her up around the waist and tickling her, "You don't need to announce things like that to the whole room!"
Bennie squealed with laughter.
"Yes she does," Brann lowered his sketch pad with a wicked little grin. "It's her job. Who do you think keeps the rest of us honest?"
Within the fires of the forge Cat could barely hear the conversation outside. She was in the flames and it was as if the other world, the non flame world had melted away. She knew it was there, knew that everyone was watching her dance and she didn't care. Normally Cat felt stupid and clumsy when she danced, but not now, now the movements flowed as though they were bred into the marrow of her bone, the flame of her soul. She didn't stumble, she didn't miss a beat the driving beat of the music of the fire making her sure lending a confidence to her movements that made the dance that much more seductive.
Cat's skin took on a decidedly golden hue, with her dark skin and her ears lengthened slightly and swept back to points. Streamers of fire began to boil off of her body and wind up her torso to her hands where the block was clasped. As they made contact and disappeared into it, the block began to softly glow. Tiny crimson and gold characters appeared along the outside of the block in charcoal gray against the inner glow and as they watched, one by one they burned away, slowly at first and then faster and faster.
In a few moments the last characters disappeared from the block and a ring of golden light appeared around the long section, exactly in the middle, with tiny characters all the way around it. Another ring formed around the outside of the characters, now forming an open band with characters it in, rotating slowly. The ring split into two identical opposite-spinning circles and then travelled away from one another to the ends of the bar where they prompts winked out. The bar turned white hot and began to shrink and redefine itself, the length remained the same but a larger square formed on one end and a small orb on the other with a length in between Cat was still holding onto. A moment later the light faded and it's final form appeared gleaming brilliantly in her grasp.
A forging hammer.
A small one, with a square head, rounded on one surface, flat on the opposite, chisel-shaped on a third and spiked on the fourth. The head was a gleaming gold, polished, it seemed made of solid gold. The handle was formed of a glass-like material in crimson, the color of blood and certain kinds of flame, with insets of what looked like different-colored Mexican fire opals in rows down the length that broke up the smoothness of the handle and made it a surer grip. The pommel of the hammer was also solid gold but completely rounded and hand two tiny marks like arrows, which were currently lined up, The lip of the haft had more tiny marks that were different shapes and spaced around the circumference.
Brann pumped his fist triumphantly, "Score, I was right! It is a hammer!"
"Ooo," Maus' eyes were bright. "Cool tool!"
Cat laughed as she slowed to a stop in the flames. She slid out of the forge to sit on the edge, her feet a good foot or more off the ground she had completely forgotten that the fire had burned away her under things in her excitement. She looked at the pommel with the two tiny marks lined up. She took hold of the pommel and tried twisting it, curious as to what would happen.
"Wow," Bennie breathed. She for one had watched with rapt attention the entire time, enjoying the beauty of what she saw.
As Cat twisted the dial on the other end, the head of the hammer changed to an etching tool, the golden striking heads changing to a sharp inscribing tool.
She laughed and ran a gentle finger down her new hammer. "My you are full of surprises." She flashed a grin around the room.
Angel offered her hand to Cat to help her down, not sure how hot the other girl's skin would be to the touch, but curious.
Her skin was the same temperature it always was, warmer than most people's but not feverishly hot.
Cat slid down to the floor, the stone of the forge scraping her backside and reminding her that she had not a stitch on. Carefully she lined the arrows back up, making a mental note to play with all the different 'settings' her newest toy had when she could. Once the hammer was back into hammer form she scooped her clothes up and pulled them on. The cardigan that Angel had left pulled tight but the buttons held, and would hopefully hold until they were done with presents.
Angel leaned over and whispered, "Just don't slouch and you should be fine."
The last box in the basket Maus pulled out was small and wooden but seemed simply enough. The card on it was scrawled in an odd cursive-writing that Maus cocked his head and stared at before slowly reading aloud. "'From the winds that blow on high, from the depth of deepest sky, in the kingdom greatest in any world, a storm is coming and lightning is nigh'." Maus opened the little box and something reflected the sunlight across his face like tiny mirrors. With an odd look vaguely dreading, Maus took out a small object that resolved itself into a silver man's ring. Instead of a gem it had a flat mirror that had been shattered from a sharp blow in the middle, producing lines radiating out which had cast the light against his face from the sun behind him.
With a quickly decisive move, he put the ring on his right middle finger, the only one it fit and paused, casting his eyes around himself as if expecting something to happen and trying to see it.
Cat raised a brow at his movements.
"You look so much prettier now," Zach said in his dry deadpan voice. A vile attempt at humor.
Maus just winked at him.
"I got a ring the night I came here," Drake commented out of the blue, holding out the hand with the gold thumb ring to show the others, "It never did anything but it felt very right when Mistress Stark put it on me."
Maus looked at it. "Was it your Dad's?" he asked.
"She didn't say, she just said it was mine now," Drake answered, looking at the ring, "I never specifically remember seeing him wear it. But when she put it on me it just felt.... right."
Maus shrugged. "It felt like I was getting tiny shocks from the box and then the ring and so when I read the card I thought maybe it was going to do something." He waved it off, "I'll figure it out later."
"It'll be fun finding out later," Brann smirked suggestively at Maus.
“It won’t fit there,” Maus replied pointedly, but he was smirking a little.
"Zach's right everything comes back to that with you two." Cat said with a chuckle.
“Teeny tiny dating pool,” Maus replied, “great big sex drives. The math is pretty simple.”
"It could be worse, Cat," Brann smiled sweetly, "We could be straight."
“Eww,” Maus made a face.
"Don't I feel the love now." Cat snarked rolling her eyes.
Maus looked in the basket and chuckled. "Apparently, Jericho wants Zach to have this metal basket. Get this," he said and read aloud, "'Withies and reeds can form a basket, a willow branch can defeat a sword, could not a reed basket become a shield for a master of weapons to wield?'" Maus chuckled, "That smells like something Summer would say," he said and handed the heft basket over to Zach.
Zach sighed. Maus was right this had Summer all over it. He reached over and hefted the iron basket. He realized he might be annoyed but was unsure. He simply replied "Blueberries," and returned to his stool.
"Alrighty then." Cat said with a chuckle.
"That's everyone?" Brann looked about at the others.
"Unless someone's hiding in the shadows, even then I think Jericho would have included something for them too." Cat said with a shrug.
“Ah yeah you forget,” Pike spread his hands to include them all, “we are the shadows.”