The Birch Twins: Part the First of the Battle for the Mountain

Kem possesses an ageless, yet hopelessly wind-shorn countenance: craggy brow, cheekbones, and chin, jutting out well beyond her sharp, deeply recessed gray eyes, her thin lips, and lumpy nose. Once, she may have been fair-skinned, but now she is tanned and leathery from too much sun and wind, and her ethnic background is lost in time. Her salt-and-pepper hair is braided close to her scalp, and strands are usually caught in the strap of her flying goggles, whether they are over her eyes or pushed back onto her head. The shapeless, tan jumpsuit is adorned with more pockets than the usual person knows what to do with; loops and hooks dangle temptingly from every conceivable angle. Her hands are usually covered with thin, sturdy, leather gloves. On the rare occasions they are exposed, one can see that they are covered with small scars, scratches, bruises, and half-healed burns, and that she gnaws her fingernails to the quick given a chance.

Kem ambles into the town center from the direction of the great, humming airship that is moored over the lake. Her cheeks are freshly reddened by the wind and her hair is wispier than usual. The ubiquitous flight goggles are dangling around her neck. She walks with a cheerful spring to her step, and she's humming some song or other, periodically breaking into words ("la la LA willow something") and then slipping back into her hum.

Muirin looks up from where she is sitting in the street, drawing absent circles in the dust with a forefinger. She blinks at Kem, then gets to her feet in a single rushing movement that hurtles her at the taller woman. "Kaiiiiiiiieeeemmmm!" she calls out, just before impact.

Kem has just enough time to break into a brilliant smile before emitting a "WoooOOF!" noise and staggering under Muirin's sudden weight. She manages to get a foot fixed flat on the ground and stabilizes their vertical position. Then she says, "Hi, you!"

Muirin flings her arms around Kem. "MISSED you!" she says. "Cold, cold here, and no people! I hate being alone!"

This woman's body is composed of curves large and small: from the downward-sloping shoulders to the wide hips, from generous thighs down to rather small ankles, and from a deep bosom along her curving arms, she gives the impression of rounded edges, a composition of curves and circles. Her skin is quite fair, in contrast to eyes such a dark brown that they seem almost black, and her face also seems composed of curves, although it shows more of a tendency to gentle angles than does the rest of her body.
Her hair is perhaps the most striking thing about her, for it falls past her knees in a thick smooth cloak. Although it is a fairly common color, a silvery brown, the sheer quantity of it is cause enough for notice; it also seems to have been recently trimmed for it is cut straight across at the bottom, which lends to its cape-like appearance.
Her hands are large and supple, and her movements a strange combination of deliberate, careful slowness and sudden quickness. When she speaks, her voice wavers between the Irish brogue and the mainland accent of Britain; a strange but not cacophonous combination. Her clothes consist of a water-stained linen dress which was probably once green, worn with a gray coat, black leggings and low boots.

Kem strokes the long, sleek hair along the other woman's back. "Missed you too," she says. "Alone? With all those folks we saw around here? What did they do, go into hibernation for the spring?"

Muirin bites Kem's shoulder and shakes her head from side to side, gently and affectionately. "They are all strange," she says, muffled. "They sleep alone in little holes, like the people in London. Lonely!"

"Awwww, poor love," the flier says, pausing in her stroking only to tug off one of her gloves. "Cold an' lonely, something you should never be. Well, I'm here now, for a bit. We've got a few repairs to make, an' then p'rhaps I'll be doing that commission for Ms. Julen. So I'll be in town for a little while before we do another run." She tightens her arms reassuringly. "Any progress on your search, then?"

Muirin sighs. Her sighs are long, drawn-out performances, starting seemingly from the soles of her feet, rising up through her capacious ribcage, and ending in a strangely attractive little snort.

Kem grunts an acknowledgement. "Not, eh? Well, that's all right, I'm sure it will come soon enough." She glances around, noting the interested face in the window of the post office and apparently choosing to ignore it. She kisses the top of Muirin's head.

Muirin sighs again, just as elaborately, and leans on Kem. "Turtle here? Warm room?"

A silly grin splits Kem's leathered face and she chuckles softly. "Warm room, yes. Extra warm right now, since we had the engines up to full for the last run up here, and you know it takes a while for the pipes to cool down."

Muirin tugs at Kem's hand. "Let's go!" Her large, brown eyes look meltingly up at her companion.

Silly grin or no, that's an awfully wistful look Kem's throwing toward the Diner. "I *was* kinda hopin' for a little homecooked food. Hazeleyes left us -- you remember her, our best cook? -- so we've been making do with a load of venison jerky some Ridgerunner around Mid-Trail paid us for carrying a shipment. Even stew would be welcome about now..." She trails off, looking down at Muirin appealingly.

Muirin blinks slowly, taking full advantage of her thick, black eyelashes. "Diner-lady isn't there, but there is food, I had some there."

Kem sighs in looking down at Muirin, then looks up at the Diner. "Shall we then? P'rhaps you'd like something to eat, or drink, too?"

Muirin nods agreeably; Kem knows from experience that Muirin is always willing to eat.

Muirin pulls open the beautiful door and enters the Ursa Diner.
Muirin has left.

You pull open the beautiful maple door. The small bell tied to the handle cracks against the wood, drowning out its own cheery jangle as you step inside.

Ursa Diner(#179RAJh)
You step onto a cracked but clean tile floor that was probably once red, but is now a faded salmon pink. A large, rectangular communal table seating about 10 takes up the middle of the floor, with mismatched smaller tables arranged near the large front windows. The long counter in front of the kitchen door sports plates of fragrant bread, cookies, and muffins and bowls of fresh wild fruits. A small, rattling fridge in the corner holds a selection of juices and cold spring water in reused bottles and jars. Atop the refrigerator is a can for cash donations; next to it is a box for barter payments. Scrawled on the box in black marker are the words "Pay what you can, when you can."
Menu Board
Obvious exits:
Curtain Main Street Kitchen

Kem propels Muirin into the Diner.

Paineforte steps into the diner.
Paineforte has arrived.

Today's menu is jotted in white chalk on a large, flat piece of dark grey slate pegged to the wall behind the counter.
Roast Pheasant with Wild Rice Stuffing
Mashed Sunchokes
Wintercress Salad
Acorn Bread
Maple Muffins
Allspice Tea
Underneath is the message, "Please help yourself to anything in the fridge or on the counter. Thanks --Sashenka"

Ruth steps into the diner.
Ruth has arrived.

Kem is rummaging about behind the counter, apparently looking for chow, in between smiling at Muirin. Unfortunately, this distraction seems to incline her to be a bit careless, as her occasional, rueful exclamations and reflections upon sharp objects seem to indicate.

Muirin is sitting at one of the round tables, leaning on her ample elbows. As the door opens, and opens again, she looks around, shaking her long hair impatiently out of her face.

Paineforte peers in and around as she enters, dark eyes taking in every little detail. Her hands hang loose and dangly at her sides, the left lightly cupping the little drawstring bag and giving it a little shake.

She's not a beauty, this woman. Too thin, too shabby, too scarecrow-like in her appearance. Her dark brown skin wraps tight over her gangly form and knife-sharp features; she's bone-thin and shambling, her movements graceless until one notices that she rarely takes a false step. Coal-colored eyes regard the world from underneath the shadow of a rumpled, wide-brimmed brown hat; if she has hair, it's not to be seen. Long-fingered hands, the nails ragged and short and caked with grime, are bereft of rings or gloves, but tattooed along both sets of knuckles with indistinct black lettering; it's not English or any derivative. Her neck's scrawny, her teeth startlingly white and even, and her grating voice possesses an accent that's maddeningly impossible to pin down.

Her tattered clothing consists of layers of browns and grays, all of it hanging baggily on her skeletal frame. Long coat, shirt, pants, boots and vest -- everything's been patched and repatched; ragged hems, loose threads, and mysterious stains hold a chaotic court. A small hide drawstring bag hangs from her belt, occasionally rattling.

A woman with light brown skin, curly rotini hair in shades of red and black, and broad, sturdy features. She has the long-limbed, lean look of someone who is often afoot and on the road. Her attire shows it as well-- thick-soled boots, dark denim pants, a hooded, woven poncho over a long-sleeved, tawny shirt that almost covers the scars that loop and twine about her wrists. Her pack is a jumble of buckles and straps, the pistol at her side a timeworn relic. There are crow's feet at the corners of her eyes, though she couldn't be more than twenty-some-odd years old.

Ruth is humming when she steps into the diner, something low and warm in her rusty alto, awake in some sort of bone-deep fashion, despite the hour. Her curly hair's swept back from her forehead, damp at her brow, and there are streaks of dirt here and there on her sturdy pants. A long-limbed creature, a wide mouth, dark brown eyes. She's enjoying the day. Her pack, slung over a shoulder, rattles its buckles as she nudges the door shut behind her. "Morning." She finds her way towards a table near the window.

Muirin blinks slowly, then raises her chin and bobs her head in friendly greeting. She also slaps the palms of her hands lightly on the table.

Kem manages to come up with a half a loaf of bread and a big bowl of stew for herself. She plops the bread into the stew to free one hand for grabbing a bottle of Sasha's root beer before heading for the table occupied by Muirin. She looks up, noticing first the woman who spoke, then the second woman. "Wotcha!" she exclaims in greeting. "Lovely day, ain't it?"

Paineforte peers carefully at each face, and then cocks a broad, white-toothed grin at Kem. "Ya, s'a good day, brigh' day, brigh' mornin'." She sidesteps neatly to give Ruth a bit more breathing space, then saunters over toward the table, one hand coming out to pat the surface.

Ruth quirks a corner of her mouth up, a quick and warm grin. "Mm-hm." She folds herself up at a table near the window, sets her pack down on the sill near her in a rattle of buckles and straps. It has much of her attention, the sketchbook and pencils she draws out from it.

Muirin eyes Kem's stew speculatively.

Kem stuffs her mouth with a hunk of stew-soaked bread without any ado, and then offers the bread to Muirin with a raised eyebrow. Once she has managed to swallow, she says, "The thing I love about this place is that every time I get back here, there's new folks popping up." She winks at Paineforte before taking another mouthful.

Paineforte scans the menu.

Muirin sniffs at the bread, then takes a bite and hands it back. While Kem seems to be otherwise occupied, she sneaks a hand into the stewbowl and extracts a large chunk of meat.

Ruth finds the room, somewhere, to prop the book up on a knee. She lets a burred breath draw out between her teeth, a faint whicker, then sets her pencil racing along a blank page. "It's something I'm starting to like," she says, her smile growing a bit broader, though her eyes are all for the pale sheet before her. "I'm Ruth," she adds, almost absent.

The wind-blasted woman slurps up a spoonful of broth before saying, "Kem Touchstone! You may've noticed my ship out there over the lake. Just got in after a quick flight south."

"New folks? Ya, it's the good thing. New folks, new life, new greenin'." Paineforte settles herself into a chair near Kem and Muirin without any self-consciousness, perching with her knees drawn up close to her chest, not really sitting so much as balancing on the balls and toes of her feet. She folds her arms close to her chest. "Paineforte. Kirsta Paineforte, f'm here 'n there 'n back again."

Kem indicates her companion with her spoon and a nod (accompanied by the faintest whiff of a truly ridiculous grin) and says, "This's Muirin. She's been about town for a bit now."

Ruth draws her head up and looks over towards the wind-swept older woman. She reaches up, a pencil caught between two of her fingers, brushes her curly black and mahogany hair away from her brow. "It's a beautiful ship." Long legs shift, tuck under the table as she sits up.

Muirin pauses in chewing to glance mischievously up at Kem, then nods at the other women.

Kem's face undergoes a transformation as Ruth entirely captures her attention away from her food and Muirin. "Built it m'self!" she exclaims, absently setting her spoon down. "Took a bit of work, I'll tell you, but she's the fastest ship aloft. Outran Zelda near the Azores once, and makes the Europe to America run in a week flat, regular."

Paineforte eyes Kem's stew with a bright, hightly interested eye, head bobbing as she acknowledges the introductions. "Kem Touchstone 'n Muirin 'n Ruth. Hm, hm, ya, got it." Her attention gets briefly diverted toward Kem at talk of the ship.

There is a faint scrabbling sound at the window. Those who turn around are treated to the sight of two white paws, a pointed, snowy muzzle, alert ears, and dark eyes peering in at the Diner with some interest. It is a white fox, apparently on its hind legs and watching the scene in the Diner through the window. After a long moment, it drops out of sight and you hear a polite scratching at the door.

Ruth sets her book down, her smile full and warm now. The pencil, for the moment, remains caught in her hands. "I came here to see it," she says, after a pause. Self-consciousness doesn't seem in her nature, but she's more aware perhaps of her long limbs, her body folded up there on an old chair. She even fails to notice the fox scrabbling at the window.

Gerard steps into the diner.
Gerard has arrived.

Muirin, unnoticed, steals another fragment of food from Kem's bowl.

A cheerful whistle, tuneful and spritely, becomes audible from the kitchen of the Diner. A moment later, and Gerard emerges, looking pleased with himself.

As though Muirin's pilfering is a trigger, Paineforte reaches out and plucks a bit from Kem's bowl herself, long fingers snagging a bit of meat. This she pops into her mouth, chews perhaps once or twice, and swallows. Then, licking her fingers, she peers over toward Gerard.

Muirin surges up from her chair, glaring at Paineforte. She growls, deep in her throat, staring at the other woman over Kem's head.

Kem pauses at the first scrabbling sound, then the scratching at the door draws her attention more fully. "What?" She peers in that direction and rises to examine the sound.

Ruth draws a brow up, dark brown eyes watching the two women, the stew and catalyst of morning oddities between them. "'lo, Gerard."

Gerard halts on the threshold, taken aback by the number of occupants and the level of activity. "Zuut," he murmurs under his breath. Then Ruth's greeting catches his attention, and he gifts her with a smile.

Paineforte springs up and out of the chair with alacrity, with a startled expression, knocking the chair over as she leaps away from the table. She blinks a bit at Muirin, cocks her head to one side, and grins. No shame there.

Kem snaps her head around, belatedly distracted by Muirin's reaction to Paineforte. "Eh?" She glances over at Ruth, and a quick smile -- faintly embarassed -- whips over her face. "You came to see it?" Then she's distracted by Gerard. Then it's back to Paineforte and Muirin.

Muirin pulls her chin up in a series of shallow jerks, still growling. When Paineforte doesn't respond aggressively, she slaps her hands on the table in a satisfied manner and grins back at the other woman. Then she sits back down again and takes another bite out of Kem's bowl, in a decidedly possessive manner.

"To fly on it, if I could," Ruth says. She glances towards Kem, though she doesn't quite let the other women slip from view.

Paineforte, with utter nonchalance, picks the chair back up and perches back into it, this time at a bit more distance from Kem's bowl, though still at the same table. She settles herself, whistling a bit between her front teeth. She's patient.

The scabbling sound occurs again, and the white fox face reappears at the window. It looks decidedly puzzled and curious.

"Fly on it...?" Kem says, attention divided, and then suddenly refocusing on Ruth. "Yes! Yes! Of course! Tour anytime! And we'll prob'ly be doing a short flight for Ms. Julen around here," she waves her hand in the air, vaguely in the direction of the mountain, "so I'm sure you'd be welcome on that flight. And there'll be test flights. Took a bit of damage in a high wind over, ehm, the southern leg of the Trail." This time, she catches a glimpse of the face in the window and she pauses to blink at it.

The fox in the window watches, apparently deeply interested in the chaos in the Diner.

"Mon dieu!" Gerard says, staring at the window. "Qu'est-ce que c'est?"

Ruth cranes her neck as she twists about to look at the door, following Kem's gaze. Dark brown eyes rest on the fox in the window, a brow goes up. "It looks like a white fox," she says. She starts to chuckle, quiet. "That'd be wonderful." There's a faint edge of surprise there.

The fox vanishes from the window again, and a faint scratching can be heard at the door.

Paineforte glances up from the bowl of stew, attention snagged by the phrase 'white fox'. "Eh, hah?" She cranes her neck, peering toward the window and door.

"A white--" Gerard begins. "But, zat would be impossible, n'est-ce pas?" Then, astonished, "Eet wants to come een? Here?"

Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.

Kem crosses the room in three long strides and opens the door, peering downward as she does so.

The white fox stands on the doorstep, one dainty paw raised as if to scratch at the door. It peers up at Kem fearlessly, then leaps backwards in an effortless back somersault and lands in the middle of the street, twitching its tail flirtatiously.

Kem looks at the fox, back at the people in the room, then back at the fox. Her mouth is slightly open.

Paineforte seems unsurprised, only curious. Intently curious.

Gerard's thin brows arch upwards. "Apparently eet does /not/ want to come een," he says, presumably to himself.

In the street, White Fox leaps up into the air in the classic 'upside-down J' fox leap, and looks about, as if for applause.

Outside, the white fox looks over its shoulder at something further down the street and out of sight.

"Eh, bush-tail!" calls out Paineforte, apparantly to the fox. Nimbly, the lanky woman bounces out of her chair with a rattle and heads for the door. "Wha's it all, hah?"

Gerard sidles a little closer to Ruth. "Ees eet rabies?" he asks in a low voice.

Ruth looks over towards the fellow, then draws her head back to regard him sidelong. "It would be a strange kind," She draws herself out of her chair, unfolding as she sets her feet firm on the floor, then steps out past Kem to glance down the street at the animal.

White Fox looks expectantly over at the diner door. Then, surprisingly, it rises up on its hind legs and gestures imperiously with one little paw towards the doorway.

Paineforte leans against the door frame and peers out, up and down the street. "Sommit wrong, bushy-bush? Sommit 'portant?" She heads outside, rattling the little bag hanging from her belt.

Paineforte pushes open the door and walks out onto Main Street.
Paineforte has left.

Kem wanders outside in a daze of curiosity. "It's... waving its... paw..."

You push open the well-oiled door and walk outside.
Main Street(#61RJ)
This brick-paved, north-south street is in significantly better repair than the roads leading into town. It's nearly impossible to tell what color the original bricks were, or in what pattern they were laid, but someone has made sure that no hole gaped too large without being plugged with something. The roadbed is a patchwork of multicolored bricks, chunks of cinderblock, and large, flat stones. The mere thought of riding a vehicle over the resulting uneven swells is almost physically painful.
Most of the buildings along the street have not fared even this well. In fact, it is clear that much of the brick in the road was scavenged from the more ramshackle structures. Yet there are signs of life: a cafe with a newly painted sign, a clean welcome mat on the library's decrepit porch, a windowbox full of vivid flowers clinging to a crumbling windowsill. The brick-paved road extends less than a quarter mile before disappearing again into grass and chunks of decaying asphalt.
White Fox
Obvious exits:
Ursa Diner Dock Farm Road LIbrary Post Office Katahdin Road Edge of Town

White Fox leaps happily in the air and runs a few steps north. Then it chases its tail in a little circle-dance and pauses to look at the people in the street.

Gerard comes out of the Ursa Diner and steps onto Main Street.
Gerard has arrived.

Ruth comes out of the Ursa Diner and steps onto Main Street.
Ruth has arrived.

Gerard watches everyone leave the Diner, and reluctantly follows.

Sunshine stops again as a crowd begins to file out of the Diner. Her eyes flicker to follow the odd white fox, and then snap back to the women, and man, leaving the Ursa.

White Fox runs a few more steps North, then stops and looks over its shoulder at all the people. It switches its brush from side to side, and you could swear it winks one bright eye.

White Fox moves north on Katahdin Road, leaving the center of town.
White Fox has left.

Paineforte jogs after the fox, giving the two people outside the diner barely a glance.

Paineforte moves north on Katahdin Road, leaving the center of town.
Paineforte has left.

Kem glances over at the people in the street, and shrugs and grimaces with a touch of embarrassment. Following a fox indeed. She ambles in a loose-jointed fashion after the Fox and Paineforte.

You leave the bulk of the town behind, moving north on Katahdin Road.
Katahdin Road
Like most of the roads in the area, this one is comprised of flat space and some asphalted gravel. The lowlands are taking back their own space: trees, shrubs, and weeds are dutifully cracking what little pavement there is left. Unlike the road south of town, this by-way is nearly unused and thus, is nearly unusable. Certainly an automobile would never make it through here, although a horsecart might -- and evidently has, to judge by the ruts. Some homesteads and small farms lurk along this road, hiding in the shadows of the forests. Ancient shacks, part of some long-gone resort or campground, huddle here and there under the assault of nature. Just visible through the trees to the west is the vast Lake Millinockett, a vista that opens up at the northernmost extreme of the road, where a dilapidated bridge crosses the Mud River just below its emergence from the lake.
On the far side of the bridge, the road peters out into a dirt trail, the pavement vanishing at last.
Whitefox Blackfox
Obvious exits:
Katahdin Trail LAke Main Street

Two foxes, one white and one black - small, quickfooted, and sharp-eared. They are exactly alike, except for their color, as if they were each the negative or shadow of the other. They both have alarmingly intelligent pale green eyes.

Sunshine moves along Katahdin Road, coming from town.
Sunshine has arrived.

Ruth moves along Katahdin Road, coming from town.
Ruth has arrived.

Gerard moves along Katahdin Road, coming from town.
Gerard has arrived.

Rahne moves along Katahdin Road, coming from town.
Rahne has arrived.

The white fox prances happily up to the black fox which is waiting in the middle of the road. They leap over and under one another in a graceful whirl of contrasting fur, kicking up their tiny paws in play. Then they stop stark still, standing in silhouette, and look at the people on the road with identical pairs of green eyes.

Gerard trails along behind Ruth, Rahne and Sunshine, looking appalled.

Kem, who is still hanging back from Paineforte, eyebrows approaching her hairline. "That's very... cute. Disturbing, but cute."

Paineforte shifts her weight from foot to foot, eyes bright with gleeful curiosity. "Ah, hah. White-brush 'n black-brush, yeh, very yeh, very good." She gives the approaching group a quick-quick glance, as though afraid that if she takes her eyes off the foxes for more than a fraction of a fraction of a second, she'll miss something very very important.

Sunshine lingers far back from the foxes, watching everyone warily, especially the foxes. The healer's lips move soundlessly.

Ruth walks out ahead of Gerard, her long stride singing the ground out underneath her, her pack jingling at her shoulder. Her chin's up, her eyes wide and alert. She could be out for a stroll. She slows to a stop as the foxes meet, start to twine and leap about each other.

The black fox and the white fox look at one another, and seem to nod. Then they leap off in opposite directions off into the underbrush. A moment later, two deer, one white and one black, canter into the road and lead you off into the forest.

Ruth slowly looks back over her shoulder at Gerard. She beams.

Rahne trails the group out of overwhelming curiousity, having jogged to catch up. Stopping not far from Sunshine, she gazes at the foxes with bright-eyed inquisitiveness. "Moonlight and shadow, dancing like wind-stirred leaves..." she says, voice nearly a whisper, cut off in a bit of startlement at the sudden movement that breaks through her thoughts on the moment.

Paineforte spreads her arms, face split nearly in two with a wide, wide grin of delight. Without fear, without thought, without even a _glimmer_ of hesitation, she follows.

Gerard's eyes grow wide as the foxes disappear and are replaced with deer. "Fou!" he says under his breath. Then, a little louder, he calls after Ruth and Paineforte. "Where are you /going/, you are /mad/--" He looks around at those who have not followed yet, for help.

Sunshine murmurs under her breath, "It looks like someone is thinknig of a different story than the one that first came ot my mind..."

Kem, bewildered and distracted, fumbles in one of her many pockets for something, and comes up with a tiny metal box. She presses a switch on it and it opens up, allowing a coil of copper wire to spring into the air. A tiny, hollow "bing!" sound emits from it, and she twists some knob or other among the innards. Then she shakes her head vaguely and follows the foxes/deer onward.

Sunshine pages: A woman after my own heart, if only she didn't intimidate Sunny entirely...

Ruth is for the moment where she stopped, though she's looking now at the forest. Poised there, her feet set solid on the ground, but everything about the lines of her arms and legs, the turn of her chin a suggestion that she's only just held there.

Rahne's feet move her forward after the deer a bit hesitantly at first, her expression full of some bit of wonder. "Remind me to find out the back story on this later?" she says to no one in particular, fingers combing her hair back into a loose ponytail with the help of a bit of string to keep it from obscuring her sight.

Ruth's first footstep is quiet, when she starts to walk, her long stride taking her into the woods and after Kem.

The forest seems to open for you, to lay out a welcoming carpet of last year's leaves, and to clear inconvenient branches out of your way. The deer gleam in the sunlight, now to the right, now to the left, now trotting teasingly before.

Sunshine watches the procession head into the woods with a faintly dubious air. Finally she remarks philosophically to no one in particular, "If that woman can't handle whatever that is, no one mortal can," and follows the parade.

"Incroyable," Gerard mutters to himself, and continues, as if he can't help himself, after Sunshine and the others.

Paineforte jogs along at an odd, irregular gait, occasionally breaking stride with a short hop forward.

The deer lead you into a little shadowed clearing. The air is cold here, and there is snow still on the ground. The deer pause for a moment, standing heraldically, their necks crossing affectionately, before leaping into the shelter of the trees. Seconds later, a black dove and a white dove flutter into the clearing, cooing urgently.

Ruth's stride is swift and even, even in the twisty confines of the wood. She steps along, quiet, never quite looking where her feet meet the earth, her eyes wide, her chin up. If she had the ears for it, perhaps, then'd be canted up, listening. She stops at the edge of the clearing, looks out on it. One of the buckles on her pack glitters.

Derrick moves along Katahdin Road, coming from town.
Derrick has arrived.

Sunshine blends in remarkably well in the still of the spring forest, her overlapping skirts muffling the sound of her footfalls as she carefully follows the others through the woods. She's far enough back in the procession not to be able to admire the stags as they pose, and her lips continue their soundless motion without any apparent attention, as her eyes flicker alertly through the brush.

Kem periodically breaks stride to study the object in her hand, or to give the copper coil emitting from it an impatient tweak. After her third or fourth pause for adjustment, she fishes another small metal box from a pocket and flips it open. There is a thin, high whine that she modulates with small touches here and there. Finally, she somehow fits the two boxes together, and the whine stops. There is a single, somber, "bong!" and she shakes her head furiously at it. She proceeds after the rest of the party.

Paineforte stops several steps into the clearing and presses her palms together, eyes following the foxes-turned-deer-turned-doves with rapt attention. She's all but holding her breath.

Gerard blends into the snow-gilded woods like a piece of charcoal on a blancmange. He breaks twigs, trips over roots, curses, and glowers, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his black coat.

Rahne holds the straps of her own well-worn pack closely to her as she follows the path laid out, for it seems enough like one to her eyes. Not even a glimmer of song comes to her lips as usual does during travel of some sort. Her feet pause at the edge of the clearing for a moment, then take a step or two in. Sinking into a loose crouch, she watches the birds intently, head cocking to one side musingly.

The doves flutter to the ground, and change.

A boy and a girl look at you with a shared, secret, amused expression. She is literally as pale as the moon, slender, and tall, with a waterfall of pale hair with a curious green sheen in the shadows of it. Her fingers are painfully thin, her collarbones prominent, her feet bony and strong, but her hips and breasts swell out gracefully in the delicate curves of early adolescence, clearly discernable beneath her thin white tunic. He is dark, his skin black with gentle silver highlights, and exactly the same height as the pale girl - he is also wearing the same kind of tunic, but in black or dark gray. His hair is also long and full, cascading down his back, and also has the same strange green shadows to it. His shoulders are slightly wider than hers, his hips narrower, and his chest broader and flatter - but he has the same hands, the same feet, and the same collarbones.
Their faces are exactly alike aside from their different skin coloring. Large luminous green eyes, a delicate nose, and a fine and pointed chin make a refined and fleeting beauty far too exaggerated to be human. Their eyes are of the same pale ethereal green which is reflected in their hair.
They stand side by side, their arms around each other's waists. They lean so close together that it may be a moment before you realize that they seem to taper oddly down towards their feet. After some confusion, you realize that her left leg and his right one both meld together into the same foot. There is nothing ungraceful about the join, but it is indisputably there.

If he could be seen, the wolf that's padding quietly toward the area would be fairly thin, and almost totally white. Since he's Blurred, however, he can't be seen; if one were looking directly at him, the shimmer of his outline might be visible, but since he's ensconsed in the underbrush of the forest, that's hard. He's also scentless. He's apparently been attracted by random 'bing' and 'bong' sounds, as well as people's feet, tromping about; curiousity is a strong motivator.
Falcon's Wing pages the room: Er, that was me.

Gerard jerks backwards as the doves change form, and stares at the black and white figures who emerge in their place. It takes him a long time to understand what is wrong with what he is seeing, but it's easy to tell when he notices their feet, because he says, "Mon dieu," under his breath, and crosses himself.

Paineforte's hands come apart, then fold together behind her back, elbows held close to the sides of her torso. She leans forward, feet rooted to the spot, neck craning. Her head tilts one way, and then the other. After a few moments of this, she takes a single step forward.

Sunshine catches up to the group in the clearing, in time to see the transformation from bird to 'children'. The sight of their ethereal beauty freezes the healer in her tracks for a moment, and the pattern in the motion of her lips breaks as she says, "Oh..." Several heartbeats pass before her eyes move downwards far enough to notice the oddness about their feet.

Kem lurches to a halt, distracted by her device. She looks up absently as the doves change, considers them very briefly, then returns to her fiddling. Evidently dissatisfied with whatever it is, she ferrets out three or four more little metal boxes, fitting them together with practiced ease, although the last one takes a little time to screw into place. When she's done, she has a small array in her hands. A few small lights reflect on her face, but the item emits no more sounds.

Ruth whispers something, faint and quiet, a low word that's almost a whicker in her mouth. She looks back towards Gerard, that faint smile still there.

Rahne's own emerald eyes widen as she witnesses the change, and a breath catches in her throat at the sight of the two children. Inelegantly, her mouth drops open loosely, simply struck dumb for a moment. It takes her quite a few minutes to recover her senses enough to notice other things, face shifting into puzzlement to match her earlier curiousity.

The pale girl leans forward, luminous in the shadows of the trees, and says, "Thank you," in a whispering voice. She looks at the dark boy, and they smile at one another. "We need your help," he says, apparently picking up the end of her thought. "Will you help us?" His voice also rustles, like leaves.

Sunshine pages the room: Sunshine and Rahne failed their Cool checks...

Rahne pages the room: Miserably. =)

Falcon's Wing isn't /too/ far away. Not that anyone can see him, but he represses a startled sound and moves backward, one paw uplifted in shock.

Paineforte's gleamingly white grin is a yes enough for anyone. "White 'n black, one 'n two, hah-eh?" She glances back over her shoulder at the others as though only _just_ _now_ remembering them.

The aura of awe distracts Kem from her machine. She looks up at the very tall and ethereal adolescents. She blinks. "Help... you?" The complex of twisty metal parts dangles loosely from her one ungloved hand.

Gerard shivers once, and looks around at the assembled people, then back at the black-and-white youth. He says nothing, now, but pulls his coat more tightly around him.

Twins pages the room: Okay, a warning now! :) If you agree to help the Twins, then you are agreeing to be involved in the Big Plot which El, Granny and I (Sia) are running. You'll need to be on for the Finale, which we're hoping to run on Friday the 19th BUT WE CAN BE FLEXIBLE! Thank you for your support! :)
Twins pages the room: er, the 19th of April. Thanks. :)

Rahne eases from her crouch to rest one knee on the ground, one hand resting on her thigh, the other buried in her hair to scratch idly in thought. Chewing on her lower lip, she looks down at that same ground for a long few minutes. When she looks back up, she seems resolved about some matter. "If it is help you seek, I am not one to turn down the request if it is possible for me to lend my hands." she answers, voice soft but carrying well in the clearing.

Derrick watches the two for a long moment, and then shifts slowly up to homid. He sidles behind a thicket and then re-emerges, quite visible, and slows to a stop near Gerard. His voice is quiet as he asks, "Help you do what?"

Sunshine wakes slowly from her daze, closing her eyes. Her lips move again. This time her prayer for guidance is faintly audible to those nearest her.

Ruth has thrown herself headlong into this, her long stride carrying her here to the clearing where the twins stand. Her eyes are wide, the lines of light and shadow along her face lending her an equine cast. Headlong, but there's caution there now. She opens her mouth, then stops, her eyes sweeping towards Derrick. The question, at any rate, has been asked.

The boy leans over, his scintillant dark skin gleaming. "Yes, we need help," he says. "There is evil coming, and our people need your help..." "To fight," says the girl, running a hand through her mane of hair. "We need people like you to fight for us. Please?" They clasp their free hands together in a pleading gesture, white and black fingers interlacing.

Paineforte's grin finally loses it's strength. It wavers, wanting to stay, but... "Ah, hah." She hops from one foot to the other and does a bit of a side-step. "Fight?"

Derrick says, almost immediately, "Yes." There's a pause. Then he adds, "But... what /kind/ of evil? And... no offense, but who are your people? I'm... somewhat new here."

Sunshine closes her eyes against the pleading beauties. "I am not a fighter," she notes quietly.

"We need all your help," says the girl, freeing her hand to include everyone in a sweeping gesture. "There will be a battle soon, and we need all of you, all the talents we can get." "Even if you do not fight, you can scout, or heal, or do other things," adds the boy earnestly, bending down a little to look people in the eyes with his scintillant green ones.

Rahne pauses now to listen to the questions asked, awaiting their answer before speaking again. Resettling herself, she sits back on her one leg and pulls the other tightly against her chest, watching quietly.

The tall twins look at one another for a moment, then the boy speaks, "We are the Children of the Mountain." The girl adds, helpfully, "I think you call us the Shining Ones."

Gerard's jaw is clamped tight. He watches the beautiful twins as though he cannot take his eyes away - but the sight of them does not please him. "Ze Good Neighbors, n'est-ce pas?" he says. "Les Beaux Gens?"

Paineforte looks relieved. _Quite_ relieved. Again, she steps to the side, and again, sort-of-but-not-quite circling around behind the curious and fascinating pair. "Shinin', heh, ya, y'do shine. Eh."

Derrick says, blankly, "Well, maybe some of these folks do. /I/ sure don't." He shoots a glance at Gerard, but the other man's terminology seems to be beyond him, as well. Absently, he takes his knife from its sheath and starts tapping it on his knuckles, absently. "Who's the battle going to be with?"

Sunshine shakes her head, no recognition in her expression. "I will, as always, heal those who ask, but..."

As one, the twins flinch back from Derrick as he pulls the knife out.

Rahne swallows, hard, and tighens her grip on her leg a bit. Her lips move slowly, forming words without voice for a few minutes before a shake of her head snaps her out of that reverie. "One hears enough tales of kind like yours, but never truly expects them to be given form in one's lifetime. What is this evil that you speak of? I for one would not fight an enemy of any sort blindly and without knowledge of what I am up against....if possible....." she trails off as the children react, and her gaze quickly moves to the source of their discomfort with concern.

Gerard notices the twins' reaction first, Derrick's action second. "Hah," he says without triumph. "Oui. Ze iron hurts zem, M'ieur Vieux. Put eet away, eef you weesh to talk furzer." then he rubs a hand over his face. "Mon Dieu, I say eet like zis is /real/."

Ruth remains where she's stopped, her feet set firm on the earth, her hands in the pockets of her thick-woven poncho. Her easy, long-limbed grace is rough compared to these folk, almost awkward. She watches them, eyes wide, then reaches up to brush her springy hair away from her brow. "They are," she murmurs.

Derrick looks from the children to his knife, and he blinks. "/Oh/. /That/ kind of Good Neighbor." He sounds more than just stunned, he sounds amazed. He also puts the knife away. Quickly.

"Zey cannot be," Gerard say sflatly to Ruth. "Eet is a dream."

Sunshine smiles thinly in Gerard's direction. "I'm pretty sure it is real, Gerard," she says quietly. Now that the first shock is over, she seems to be withdrawing somewhat from the pair.

Rahne snorts softly and rubs at her face with the hand that had scratched her head. "Pinch yourself and find out for certain."

The twins smile dazzlingly, thankfully, at Derrick. For just a moment, their beauty draws, like rushing water down a steep incline. Then the girl says quickly, answering him, "Among our people, some are evil, and some are not. There are those who are trying to... take this place away from us. This is our home. We have agreed to..." She looks at the boy, who takes up the thread of the tale, "a battle, to decide who can have the mountain. And we need your help." "We cannot do it alone," interposes the girl, stroking her face absently with her thin, graceful fingers.

Gerard's peaked brows crook together. "For me, zat never works," he says mournfully, but he is not truly distracted. Real or not, the twins have his attention.

"Please," whispers the boy. "Please help us."

"Why do these others seek to take the mountain from you?" asks Sunshine in a clear, calm voice, although the healer does not meet the twins's eyes.

Ruth runs her hand along the gathered straps of her pack, down towards her waist. She steps towards Gerard, stopping a few steps away from him to glance back towards the twins. For the moment at least, it doesn't look like /she/ wants to pinch the fellow.

"'Course, a'course," mutters Paineforte, utterly enchanted by the twins. Long fingers twine together behind her back. Sunshine's question, as sensible as it is, draws a confused look from the bony woman.

Rahne pages the room: Rahne arghs and has to idle, hoping to be back soon. =/

Gerard's lips shape the word 'evil' to himself, but he says nothing aloud.

Derrick gapes for a moment, before their attention leaves him. Then he says, "But, um--" Sunshine finishes her thoguht before Derrick's even gets out of the starting gate.

The twins look at one another, and the boy answers this time, leaning earnestly forward, his tall frame swaying gracefully. "It is their way, they are the /unseelie/, the chaos, what you call evil." The girl shrugs, "They want it, that is why." She sways back, counterbalancing her twin.

Sunshine closes her eyes again, shutting out the sight of the twins' need. Bringing her hands up to her face to cover her eyes as well, she begins praying again.

"If we don't help," Ruth says, her voice warm and rough against the beauty of the children's voices. "I'd think we'd still have to attend to what came to the mountain. And the neighbors, then, might not be as good." She's found her way to a point near Gerard and Sunshine, equidistant. "Water runs downhill."

Derrick entirely fails to ask if the neighbors around here /are/ good. Maybe he'll get to it later, when he's not being stunned. As it is, he just says, "Expect we'll be there. Somehow."

The twins lean forward. "Oh, thank you," breathes the boy. "All of you?" asks the girl, looking around.

Sunshine drops her hands with a faint sigh. "It does," she agrees quietly to Ruth. Her voice a little louder, she confirms, "I will help as I can."

Paineforte hops from one foot to the other. "Eh-heh, lil' shinin' br'ers, Paineforte'll help yeh, ya 'deedy."

A soft noise comes from Gerard. It might be a moan. It certainly isn't an offer of help.

Derrick hasn't quite managed to look away from the pair yet, but his body language seems to express sympathy at Gerard's noise, anyway.

The twins tighten their arms as they stand there, arms around each other's waists, as if for comfort. They seem to be holding their breath with anxiety for people's answers, their beautiful eyes looking from face to face.

Sunshine looks at Kem, rather than meet the faeries' eyes.

Kem looks up, startled to find attention upon her. "Oh, yes, yes," she says distractedly. "More than happy to help, all that." She shakes her device violently and holds out a small copper plate toward the twins. "Hrmph," she says, studying whatever readout she has in front of her.

Ruth's attention is caught by the strange device, a moment, and then she's looking towards the twins. To the boy, perhaps, though it's hard to say for certain with the two so close together. She nods, once. "I'll help."

"Thank you," the twins say together, looking at each of the people who have agreed in turn. As their green gaze falls on each of you who have agreed, you feel a shock (if you meet it), perhaps at their very existence. "Thank you," they whisper again.

The twins steal forward a step or two - they walk with preternatural grace, not seeming to find their shared foot a handicap in the least - and the girl, who is closest, reaches out and touches Kem's equipment with one finger, half-thoughtfully, half-mischievously.

Sunshine continues to avoid meeting the unearthly beings' eyes, tucking her hands into pockets in her skirts as a chill breeze ruffles her hemline.

Gerard just watches. He doesn't answer, nor does he look self-conscious about not answering. If anything, it seems that it has never occurred to him he might be included in the twins' appeal. As one by one the others agree, his shoulders slump a little, but he is past protesting, or perhaps he has reconsidered it.

Paineforte stands quite still, watching the twins with wide, wide eyes.

Derrick shrugs. He's certainly not capable of talking, anymore.

The copper plate crackles, sparks, and sizzles momentarily at the touch. Kem abruptly drops it and pats her smoldering glove against her pant leg until it stops smoking. She adjusts something on her instrument, sighs, and begins to unscrew the various parts, tucking them away in her many-pocketed jumpsuit. "I'll go over the recordings," she assures no one in particular.

Ruth cannot help but meet the boy's gaze when the twins look out along the people gathered. Just a moment, and then she's looking somewhere else, down at the earth. A muscle stirs at her jaw, the lines of her face sharpening.

The twins, after watching Kem's proceedings with frank curiosity, suddenly turn towards Gerard. "You will not help us, then?" asks the dark boy. "And you seemed so gallant," whispers the girl, shaking her white hair forward.

A flush burns across Gerard's cheeks. "I...m'sieur, madmoiselle...I am no one, I cannot 'elp even myself..." His hands emerge from his pockets to spread out before him in the chilly air. He swallows. "I know nossing of--of evil, or 'ow to fight eet."

"We can use everyone's help," says the girl earnestly. "Truly!" The boy slides his arm up around her shoulders and looks through his hair at the uncomfortable man.

Gerard licks his lips, glancing at Derrick and Ruth, then back at the beautiful twins. "Ah..." He hesitates again, picking his words as carefully as he would tread over uncertain terrain, and much as though he had a sharp piece of gravel in his shoe. "You are so beautiful, eet is very hard for me to sink. But I..." He looks again at Derrick. "I..." At Ruth. "You..." At the others, who have given their words. "I will do what I can," he says helplessly.

Sunshine smiles faintly in Gerard's direction, fading back a step or two away from the twins.

The twins smile brilliantly at Gerard. "Thank you," says the pale girl. They move away from Kem, drifting through the assembled people. The boy gently brushes a hand over Ruth's shoulder, and the girl touches Derrick's arm shyly. They seem to respect Sunshine's retreat from them, but they brush very close by Paineforte, with another heartbreaking smile.

Gerard flushes, scowls, and jams his hands back into his pockets, looking on the point of tears.

Derrick starts away, reflexively, though it's quite clear he'd far rather not be.

Paineforte grins back at the twins unstintingly.

The twins drift towards the far end of the clearing.

Ruth turns her eyes away from the earth to Gerard. She quirks a smile up at the fellow, a smile that stops, frozen, when she's touched. She shies from the boy's hand, the low sound she makes too equine to have stirred from a human throat. She doesn't change, there, but perhaps her shadow is heavier, for a moment.

Sunshine drifts a step towards Gerard, like a leaf caught in the backflow of an eddy, swirling around to where the twins caused the most damage.

The dark and light pair turn to face the assembled people. Slowly, the girl and the boy fade into the shadows of the leaves as a chill breeze rustles the woods around you. Just behind where they were standing is a large, ancient birch tree. It has two trunks, joined together only at the bottom, and one of the trunks is black, scarred perhaps by an old lightning strike. The other trunk is the soft moon-white of most birch trees. Both the trunks are still living, though, judging by the faint green of buds on the proliferation of little twigs overhead. The rustling of the wind through the twigs almost sounds like a distant "Thank you..."

Kem gawps for a moment, still holding a thin coil of copper wire. Then she firmly shuts her mouth and finishes putting away her instruments. "Hmm."

Gerard attempts a smile at Ruth and Sunshine, but it's not up to his usual standard.

It's a long moment before Derrick says, in an entirely different stunned kind of voice, "Ohhhh hell."

Paineforte's legs fold under her, and she sits down with a thump, looking blissful. She utters a small sigh. "Ha-aah."

Sunshine raises one hand and gently touches Gerard's cheek. "They are Lilith's first-born. It is not weakness to be unable to deny them..."

Twins pages the room: Thank you /all/, so much (out of character!). I hope you enjoy the rest of the little plot!

Ruth draws a long breath in, lets it burr between her lips at the end, when she exhales. Then she snorts, faint, stuffs her hands in her pockets.

Twins pages the room: But please feel free to go on roleplaying. Hope you all liked it. :)

Ruth pages the room: Ruth grins. It had a very interesting start.

Paineforte pages the room: Paineforte claps gleefully.

Gerard pages the room: Doom! Doom, I tell you! Ahem. That is, you were great, twins. :)

Kem pages the room: Kem cackles. I've never gotten to pull out any of Kem's gizmos before. Yayyy.

Derrick thuds down onto the floor of the forest. "Ohhh hell," he repeats, a tinge of fear in that stunned sound.

Derrick pages the room: Derrick thanks y'all!

Sunshine pages the room: Sunshine chuckles. "Interesting is certainly one way of putting it."

Gerard twitches back at Sunshine's touch, surprised. He brings his eyes into focus on her. "Eet wasn't real?" he asks hopefully.

Twins pages the room: I am so glad that you liked it! We hug ourselves. :)

Sunshine pages the room: Sunshine smirks.

Sunshine drops her hand, shaking her head sadly. "No, I am fairly certain it was real."

"Merde," Gerard says simply, and closes his eyes.

Sunshine agrees quietly, "Oui." She glances back at Derrick, a flicker of concern crossing her expression.

Derrick shakes his head as if to clear it. Then he asks, attempting to sound wry and almost getting there, "/Does/ anyone know what the neighbors are like around here?"

Sunshine sighs, closing her eyes for a moment, either to retrieve a memory or suppress one. "Not of my own experience, no," she admits. "But I am reasonably confident that they are Lilith's chidren in truth."

Kem rubs her hands up and down over her hips. "Well," she says. "Well." And, "Harumph." She glances over at Derrick. "Sadly, no. Though one might ask the local Ridgerunners." She fishes out her other glove and pulls it on over the badly scarred hand. "Well, I should be getting back to Muirin." There is a hazy sort of puzzlement as she seems to realize that Muirin didn't come along. "Yes, I should be gettin' back. But, um, Ruth," she turns to the other woman. "Come by any time for your tour. And we'll set up your ride on the Turtletop soon. Okay?"

Derrick says, a little as if he thinks he should know the word and doesn't, "Ridgerunners?"
Then he looks at Sunshine. "That... doesn't... That could mean a lot of things, ma'am."

Sunshine smiles faintly at Derrick. "I know that," she says calmly.

Ruth lifts her chin, her eyes opening and with that a certain amount of motion returns to her limbs. She brushes her hair away from her brow, quick and sharp, then nods, quirks up a faint smile. "I'd like that."

Gerard turns around abruptly, as though to leave without another word, a backward glance, whatever. But whatever it was he intended, he stops before he has even gone a step, staring at the surrounding forest. "Euh," he says hesitantly. "Ees zere someone who to get back?"

A little helplessly, Derrick asks, "Well, what's it mean in /this/ context?"

"The folks who keep the Trail open," Kem explains, a little perfunctorily. "Well, I'm off. Good to meet you all..." She glances around one more time, as if missing something, or forgetting something, and then strikes off in the direction she thinks she ought to be going.

Sunshine smile widens just slightly. "I don't know," she says to Derrick. At Gerard's question, she looks at the surrounding brush. "Oh, dear..."