The Birthday Party



It is only a few paces from the edge of the wilderness to the lake; trees crowd close to the water in every direction. The water at your feet is pristine, shining blue. Gentle ripples ruffle the glossy surface of the water and whisper at the shore. The hump of Katahdin Peak, blue-grey with distance, looms over the trees as they ring the lake. The air smells clean, rich with pine and fish. In the distance you can make out a dock, and other signs of human habitation; but here, only the calls of birds, frogs, and insects disturb the peaceful quiet.

Gathers Gaia's Milk(#172Pce)
A pair of small, dark eyes peers at you over the reddish muzzle of this large bear. She must weigh at least 400 pounds. Her slightly tousled fur is cinnamon brown, except for her lower legs, paws, and a mask around her eyes and ears -- these are all black. Her velvety ears are softly rounded and alert.
The fish are thick today, more so than usual.

Gathers Gaia's Milk stands tummy-deep in the water, her small, sharp eyes focused on the water. She is almost perfectly still, except for the occasional ear or tail twitch. Suddenly, she rears back and slaps at the water with a paw. She misses. With a sigh and a grumble, she settles back into waiting.

The water stills, and eventually a large flash of silver darts closer to her.

Gathers Gaia's Milk dives for the tempting fish, and it's a close thing, but she slaps it out of the water and onto shore.

It lands with a thump and writhes unhappily. It is, in fact, a prince among salmon: huge and shining. It turns a panicked eye to the Nitakk-Ita and gasps, in a human voice, "Please, Bear Mother, I beg my life of thee."

Gathers Gaia's Milk turns sharply toward the fish. ~What? Who's there?~

"It is only I," the fish replies. "I... I... I... there has not been one of your kind here for many years. I grew careless. I can tell you things, in return for my life. I swear it!"

Gathers Gaia's Milk sloshes through the water toward the beautiful salmon. ~You are a most unusual fish. What kind of things can you tell me?~

One silver eye fixes on the bear and glitters in the sun for a moment. "I can tell you how to see that which your heart most wishes to see."

Gathers Gaia's Milk steps up onto the bank, shifting into human form as she does so. She picks up a large bucket from the bank, fills it with water, then picks up the squirming fish and drops it in. "Tell me."

The salmon lets out a sigh of relief at the touch of water, then turns its eye back upon Sashenka. "You must find a clover with four leaves. You must find a piece of broken glass, and it must be convex, like a lens. And you must have a thread from her clothing."

Sashenka stares at the fish. "You -- you know of her? How -- What ARE you?"

"I am just a fish who loves life too much," it says. "At dawn, you must find the Window of the Sun and face north. Whisper her name three times. If you desire it enough, you may see her as she is now."

Sashenka nods, slowly, amazement on her face. "I just -- take these things there? What is the Window of the Sun?"

The eye glitters. "The Window... it is an ancient and sacred place upon the mountain. A place to stand and scry things you might not elsewhere. I have heard of it, but never, as you may suppose, seen it." Its gills still move somewhat frantically. "Please, Bear Mother, I have fulfilled my side of the bargain. Will you not free me?"

Sashenka nods. "I will. A four-leafed clover. A curved piece of glass. A thread from her clothing. And her name three times, at the Window of the Sun, at dawn, facing north. Is that right?"

"Yes," the salmon replies.

Sashenka picks up the bucket. "Thank you, friend fish. Should we meet again, tell me who you are and I will free you. Thank you." She gently immerses the bucket, then tilts it so the salmon can swim free.

The Salmon darts away without another word, disappearing into the depths of the lake.

Sashenka staggers to shore, drops the bucket, and sits heavily on the ground beside it, staring at the water. After a few moments, she looks down and begins combing the grass for clover.

Weatherwax pages: Let's say that after a few hours of hunting, Sasha does, in fact, find a four-leafed clover. :)

You paged Weatherwax with 'Right. Got one. :) And curved glass is easy to come by in a restaurant -- just break a glass.'.

Fast-forward to dawn at…

Window of the Sun(#208RJh)

This is a funny little keyhole shaped place. Well, little compared to the vast bulk of the Katahdin massif -- the roofless opening is in fact several stories high. To the east and west rise the walls of the Window -- Chimney Peak and Pamola Peak, with you, very tiny, in the gap between them. The floor is almost flat, and in the little sheltered nooks of the wind's lea grow tufts of hardy alpine plants. For the earthbound, getting here and getting out again both require something of a climb -- massive tumbled boulders form the walls of the notch, and while they offer various climbing surfaces, they are in places nearly vertical.

West, over Chimney Peak, lies the challenge of the Knife Edge; East over Pamola is Keep Ridge, the southeastern shoulder of the massif. To the north and south is nothing but sky, and, if the weather is good, some more nice views.

Sashenka clambers easily over the rocks to the Window.

The wind is high and chilly, even now, in high summer. The east is paling, and it is clear that the sun has not risen yet, even behind the thick cloud cover.

Sashenka clutches the precious elements in her hand, hissing between her teeth as she grips too tight and cuts herself on the piece of broken glass. She eases up, watching the east closely and thinking of her lost darling. When she judges that it is time, she turns to the north, opening her hands a bit to cup her three elements like an offering. Lifting them before her, she calls into the chill air: "Lelewakhen! Lelewakhen! Lelewakhen!"

The darkness of the mountainside blurs gently. A golden-green light spills over a grassy hillock that was not in front of Sashenka moments ago.

Sashenka clutches her hands to her breast, staring at the vision, her mouth gaping slightly. The wind dries her tears almost as soon as they fall.

A child's laugh drifts to her on the breeze, and a small girl-child, dressed in an immaculately white knitted sweater and a short, green skirt, runs into view on the hillock. She pauses there, blonde curls caught in the breeze, and laughs back over her shoulder at something Sashenka cannot see yet.

Sashenka gapes. "Lele? Oh..." words fail her; she drops to her knees, tears running too fast for the wind to take away.

A tall, willowy young woman runs lightly onto the hill. She is wearing a thin dress of sage-colored fabric, and her hair pours down her back to her knees, a waterfall of golden silk. Her feet are bare, and a golden anklet glitters in the sunlight. With immense grace, she bends and scoops up the child in an embrace, both of them laughing. Her darker skin contrasts with that of the child, and as she turns to look around, Sashenka sees her own dark eyes scan the landscape.

Sashenka moves forward on her knees in an odd lurch. "Lele? Lele? Who is that? Lele!" Her voice grows increasingly desperate, until it finally stretches and breaks. She reaches toward her daughter, sobbing.

The pair on the hillock, apparently not hearing Sashenka's pleas, move on, and the "camera" moves with them. The woman hitches the girl up onto her hip and carries her to a small grove of trees. Flowers of all shapes, sizes, and colors spatter the grassy meadow; butterflies of marvelously brilliant hues flutter from blossom to blossom. Suspended from one of the trees is an ornate swing of shining silver filigree. The woman places the girl in the swing and steps around to push her. The child laughs joyously.

Sashenka's voice stills, and she slumps back, realizing she can only watch. Her hands relax, and the clover, thread and glass spill out onto the rocks. The glass gives a little tinkle, but Saha doesn't hear it.

More laughter drifts to Sasha's ears. The child, helped by the woman's pushes, swings high in the air. There is a quality to her face... her eyes, perhaps... that is unearthly. Her form occasionally seems to glow, or be slightly transparent, or both, or neither. Conversely, the woman is as solid as the earth -- beautiful, but mortal clay through and through.

Sashenka groans. She closes her eyes briefly, as if to shut out her little girl's new mommy. Maybe when she opens them the woman, the not-Sasha, the almost-Sasha, will be gone, and Lele's arms will reach out to her again. She opens her eyes hopefully, her arms raising slightly without her knowledge.

Another woman, even more ethereal than the child, wafts up the hillside to the grove. Her voice drifts on the wind, musical and wind-like itself. "Lele," she says, with a gently spiteful inflection, laying a hand on the woman's shoulder. "Come, the Lady wishes to speak to you. I will stay with the child."

The brown-eyed, golden-haired woman turns her gaze upon the other, closes her eyes, and nods. She moves away from the swing, casting a glance back at the child as she runs down the hill, her dress and hair streaming in the wind.

Sashenka's voice rises in a surprised squeak. "Lele? That's... tha... Oh, Lele, you grew up without me." Her voice chokes and drops as her eyes shift back to the child. Her granddaughter.

The swing drifts to a halt as both child and woman gravely watch Lele depart. Then the child turns her unearthly eyes -- lavender? or silver? -- to Sashenka. "My lady," she says precisely. "Who is that?"

The woman shrugs carelessly and moves to follow Lele. "Nothing. No one." And she leaves the vision.

The child continues to stare at Sashenka for a long moment before rising and following the two adults at a run.

Sashenka stares into the little girl's eyes, rapt, then watches her run, curious to know who "the Lady" might be.

The light of the vision is disrupted by a single beam of golden light breaking through the clouds, and the mountainside is before Sashenka again.

Sashenka blinks hard. "Lele?" She calls the name into the air. "Oh, Lele, come back." She stares hard at the location of the vanished hillock, then sighs.

Sashenka gets to her feet, still staring at the spot with faint and vanishing hope. Then her face breaks into a tiny smile, though her tears begin anew. "I have a granddaughter."

The dawn, momentarily shining full through a break in the clouds, banishes all hope by laying the mountain's tumbled boulders clear. Although, on the wind, there may be a child's piping voice, singing.

Sashenka wipes her cheeks with the back of her hand, then wipes her hand on her pant leg. She finds a good-sized, flat-topped rock -- a challenge, since she refuses to stop watching the vision spot for more than a split second -- and sits down, listening to the wind laugh. Hours later, with a great sigh, she finally rises and heads for home.

Later, that evening….

Ursa Diner(#179RAJ)
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."


There's something strange about the diner tonight. The usual dim electric lights are all out, replaced by candles -- some in the usual tan beeswax color, but others in rare shades of red, purple, and blue. The air is
redolent with a rich, complex, and delicious smell. Chocolate. Somehow, Sashenka has gotten her paws on some cocoa, and the front counter has been largely cleared to make way for a huge platter of chocolate cupcakes drizzled with a honey glaze. Next to the platter is a framed portrait of a small girl, no more than two or three, with slightly curly blonde hair and brown eyes reminiscent of Sasha's. Her smile is guileless and full of joy.

Rowan is standing, looking at the portrait with a quizzical air.

Layla hesitates momentarily in the threshold of the doorway, taking in the changes of the room. She advances fully into the room, taking a seat at the large, communal table.

Layla scans the menu.

Rex scans the menu.
Rex's gaze finally fixes on the portrait as well. In unusually hushed tones, he says, "Who's that?"

Rowan says, slowly, "I don't know. I probably /should/, by now." He doesn't sound happy with himself. He also continues looking at it.

"She's pretty," Rex says, drawling the word expressively.

The door opens once more. Tan Sin quietly enters, carrying some papers in one hand. He stops at the threshold and looks around curiously at the gathered people and the changed surroundings.

Rowan shakes his head slightly as he finally looks away from the portrait. "/Happy/," he says, firmly, and wanders to the fridge. "Heya, Tan Sin," he offers.

Tan Sin moves away from the door and sets down his papers on an empty table. "Hello Rowan. What's going on?"

Layla reaches across the table for a cupcake.

Rowan scans the menu.

Rex regards Tan Sin with a cocked head. He looks... puzzled.

Rowan gets himself some soup. "I am... Not entirely sure. I don't know a lot about Sashenka, but that portrait..." He trails off. "Well, /I'm/ just here for dinner. I don't know what's up with the rest of it."

Tan Sin frowns and looks around. "Is Sashenka around?" His eyes rest briefly on Rex, weighing him for a moment, and then settle on the picture.

Rowan shakes his head. "Well," he amends, "I haven't /seen/ her."

The door swings wide, the opening filled with a very large silhouette. Some of you may recognize the traveling blacksmith who's been doing work for folks at the commune for the last day or two. Before he enters, he turns to the dog at his heels. "No, Arslag, I don't think they want you in here." There's a smile in his voice as he talks to the dog. "Why don't you go play with that big fellow you met earlier? That's a good boy," he says, stepping inside and closing the door as the dog pads reluctantly away.

Rex unconsciously puffs up, just a little, under Tan Sin's scrutiny.

Tan Sin scans the menu.
Tan Sin hmmms at Rowans answer. He looks away from the picture and walks behind the counter to put together his own dinner. He glances up as the door opens and does a slight nod/bow to the smith.

Rowan raises his soup in salute to Lucas. "Evenin', sir. Should think we don't mind the dog. Sasha certainly doesn't object when I'm in lupus, anyway..."

Rex turns to look at the new arrival and his eyes get big. Any dominant body language he had for a moment is gone.

The big smith smiles at the greetings and moves into the room. "Thanks, but Ah'm sure you've got better manners in lupus than Arslag does. Rowan, wasn't it? Hello again. And Tan Sin." He nods to the Bastet. His smile slides a little as he takes in the new decor. "Oh, Ah'm sorry. Am Ah interrupting something?" He glances to the picture on the counter, then peers behind it, obviously looking for the proprietress.

Tan Sin takes his food and settles in at the counter. "If you are so are we."

Rowan's brief grin at Lucas' joke vanishes once he mentions the decor. "It was like that when we got here. And we're not entirely sure if we /are/ interrupting. Yet."

Rex glances around at the other men in the room, trying to gauge their reactions to this Presence. He edges toward Layla, just a little.

Layla scoots her cupcake over, making room for Rex, if he should like a seat at the table. Meanwhile, she continues to watch the crowd quietly while she picks at her cupcake.

Rex lingers near a seat at Layla's table, but remains standing until Lucas' gaze drifts back to him.

The worried look lingers on the smith's open features a moment longer, then it shifts to one of wonder as he tilts his head back and takes in the scents as well as the sights. "Is that... *chocolate*?!" He drifts over
to the counter and stares at the cupcakes. He hesitates to take one, though, doubtfully returning the glance of the girl in the portrait. After a moment, he turns to Rowan, his body language relaxed, but his tone
expressing the desire of a newcomer not to trespass. "Is Miss Sashenka out, then? Ah've been hankering for more of that potato soup..."

Rowan watches this curiously; he himself seems somewhat deferential to Lucas, although not excessively so. He has also failed to take a cupcake. Raising his soup mug in a salute, he affirms, "Sorrel and potato, right here. I've yet to see Sashenka t'day, but I could serve you some?" He is, if not at /home/, at least very comfortable.

"That'd be great!" Lucas grins. "Ah've been wrestling horses all afternoon, and Ah'm starved. Oh, that reminds me..." He swings a large leather satchel off one shoulder, its bulk having previously been obscured by the sheer breadth of him. He sets the satchel on the floor in front of the counter and pulls it open, drawing out a large steel pot and a slightly battered old copper kettle. Both show neat mends in their bottoms, and both have been polished to within an inch of their lives. "Ah've finished these for her -- maybe you know where they belong?" For the extremely perceptive, there's a warm note in the smith's voice when he refers to Sashenka.

Rowan serves up some soup quickly, and sets it down on a nearby table. "Those," he says, the trace of a smile rising, "Go in the kitchen. C'mon, I'll show you where."

Lucas ducks under the doorway as he follows Rowan into the kitchen, taking note of where everything is and goes in this inner sanctum.

Rex collapses into the chair at Layla's table. He offers her a rictus grin and slightly wild eyes. "Big," he says. "Scary."

Rowan sticks them carefully under one of the tables, nestling several other, smaller pots inside them. "If she doesn't show up tonight, sir, I'll tell her you came, ok?"

Layla offers Rex a soothing smile.

"That's great, thanks!" answers the smith. "Oh, and if you see her boy, could you give him this?" He hands Rowan a small folding knife, its handle of some dark, smooth wood. "Ah told him Ah'd give it to him for helping me out, and then Ah completely forgot."

Rowan takes it from him, and nods. Rummaging in his pocket, he comes up with a small piece of string, which he ties around it. "Won't remember to give it to him, if it doesn't have this on't," he explains, and sticks the knife in his pocket. "Will do, definitely."

Tan Sin glances up as he hears the young man and red head speak. He eyes them thoughtfully as he rinses his now empty dishes in the sink. Then he walks over to their table and performs a short bow. He stares at the woman and says "My name is Tan Sin. I believe we may have met in passing, but I seem to have forgotten your name. And I don't believe I've met your companion."

Layla stands up in one fluid motion. "I am Layla, of the Striders." With a graceful sweep of her arm, she indicates her companion. "And this is Rex,"she adds simply.

Rex stands and wipes a hand on his pants. "Yessir," he says, his voice squeaking at start and eyes darting toward Lucas. "I'm Rex." His voice is thick with the Deep South.

Tan Sin nods at the names. "Pleased to meet you, Garou. And you, Rex."

In the kitchen, Lucas admires the soup.

Rex clears his throat. "I'm Oroszlan Kin, sir. If'n I'm not much mistaken, you're Family too?" He seems somewhat tentative in his identification, as if afraid to accidentally cause offense.

Tan Sin cocks an eyebrow and stares again at Rex. "Oroszlan? Forgive me, but much of my knowledge about my... family is in Chinese."

Rex blinks and then smiles, hesitantly, without teeth. "Lions, sir. My mother was head of the Pride of Mississippi."

Tan Sin nods, looking interested. "I am Bastet, of the Tao-Tieh, the Tigers. Are there many Oroszlan in the south?" He reaches back and hooks a chair to sit in.

"The Pride of Mississippi?" the smith repeats, emerging from the kitchen with a large bowl of gently steaming soup. "They did terrific work at New Orleans, Ah'm told. One of them -- ah, Lowry Bent-tail, Ah think his name was -- visited my gumi briefly when Ah'd just been apprenticed." The big man takes a seat near Rowan and begins sipping his soup, regarding Rex curiously over his spoon.

Rex blinks at Tan Sin. "Tigers? Wow!" he breathes. Then, startled, he looks over to Lucas. "Uh... ah... um... yessir! Lowry, he left 'fore I was born. But I heard a' him. A cousin, sir."

Rowan fetches his own soup from the counter and settles in to enjoying it.

Sashenka steps into the diner.

Sashenka wanders into the Diner, slamming a shoulder into the doorjamb as she does so. She doesn't seem to notice. Nor, in a first (as far as anyone knows), does she seem to notice any of her patrons, despite their number. Her eyes are rimmed with red and seem to be unfocused as she drifts across the room in the general direction of the refrigerator.

Lucas lurches to his feet abruptly, staring at Sashenka. He immediately glances to the door, to see if she is pursued.

Looking up as Sashenka appears, Rowan stills slightly. He gives his soup a long look, and then leaves it where it is, heading directly for the woman. He stops before he gets there, though. Stuffing his hands in his
pockets, he asks, "You ok?"

Tan Sin's eyes slip to the door as Sashenka enters. Seeing her, he slips the chair around and watches carefully as Rowan approaches her.

Sashenka opens the refrigerator door, staring into it blindly. Her head turns slightly toward Rowan's voice, then she looks back into the fridge, her brow furrowed. She seems to process his question after a moment of
consideration, and murmurs "I'm fine" almost too quietly to hear.

Rowan leans against the counter, hands still stuffed in his pockets. "Well. No." He watches her movements, chewing his lip a little. "Clearly you're not. You can tell me to get the hell outta your face, but -- Can I help at all?"

Rex sits down as quietly as he can.

Lucas strides purposefully over to the still-open door and peers out into the night. After satisfying himself that nothing untoward is going on outside, he gently swings it shut then returns to his table, glancing at
the other patrons to see how they are reacting. Then his eyes fix on Sashenka and Rowan, worry plain in his open face.

Sashenka turns from the refrigerator, a bottle of water gripped tightly in her hand, and finds herself face-to-face with Rowan. She stares at him for a moment, and her eyes clear a little, then well up with tears. She opens her mouth, then closes it and shakes her head, with a tiny smile to show she's not trying to make Rowan go away.

Rex cocks his head, watching with interest.

The smith is obviously torn between genuine concern and an uncomfortable consciousness that, as an outsider, this should really be none of his business. He fiddles with his spoon, but does not touch his rapidly
cooling soup.

The Dancer can't seem to find any words of his own, so after looking at her dumbly for a minute, he finally takes his hands out of his pockets and wraps an arm, tentatively, around Sashenka's shoulders.

Sashenka stiffens slightly at Rowan's touch, then crumbles, burying her head in his shoulder. Her whole body shakes as she is wracked with sobs.

Rowan gathers her into a fuller hug, entirely prepared for that, and just holds her, tightly.

Lucas rather self-consciously goes back to eating his cold soup.

Sashenka's sobs finally slow, and she pulls back slightly.

Tan Sin's face is closed, but he is clearly focused on the interaction between Rowan and Sashenka.

Rowan certainly lets her go. He asks a quiet question, not loud enough for anyone else to hear.

Rex, slightly embarrassed by the Nitakk-Ita's emotions, gets up quietly and tries to dodge around the pair without disturbing them, so as to serve himself some soup.

Sashenka gropes about in her pockets until she finds a handkerchief, and blows her nose indelicately. When she's finished, she looks at Rowan mournfully. "Lele," she says, in a shaky voice that rises and falls in
volume. "Lele. My daughter."

He's quite near her still, is Rowan, but he's not crowding her. "What happened?"

Sashenka remembers the water in her hand, opens the bottle, and takes a long drink. When she finishes, her voice is much steadier. "It's her birthday. She disappeared 16 years ago. But...." Sasha closes her eyes,
sways almost imperceptibly, and opens them again with a sigh. "I saw her this morning."

Rowan stares at Sashenka fixedly, and then closes his eyes for a moment. Opening them again, he shakes his head. "Well. /I/ can't find her. But -- Look, we're t'gether in all this. You want help lookin' more, some time,
I'm here. Meantime, tell me 'bout what happened? I mean. Back then?"

Sashenka nods. "I... I think I'd better sit down." But she makes no move to do so, perhaps because Rowan is between her and the tables and chairs.

The Dancer moves out of her way, and in fact, in a hovering-but-not-quite-touching-her way, helps her to a table.

Tan Sin stands and silently grabs a chair. He moves it towards Sashenka, and waits to see if she sits.

Surprisingly agile for someone his size, Lucas is abruptly behind Sashenka. He pulls out a chair for her and deftly tucks her in as she sits.

Tan Sin skates the chair he was holding back to where he had gotten it. He then stands quietly nearby, not hovering, but there.

Sashenka allows Rowan to help her, and lets herself be seated by Lucas, who's closer. She closes her eyes and gathers herself for a moment, then looks back up at Rowan. "You want to know what happened then?"

Rowan glances at the group in general. "Only," he says, carefully, "If it would help you. Right now."

Sashenka clasps her hands together on the table. "There's not much to tell. The wind took her."

Layla blinks in incomprehension.

Lucas vanishes into the kitchen, apparently over his hesitation to be too free with the place, and returns with a mug of tea, which he wordlessly sets near Sashenka's hand.

Rowan gives Lucas an entirely approving look, and merely tilts his head at Sasheka's phrasing. "The wind?"

Sashenka wraps her hands around the mug with a grateful smile at Lucas. "I was on the playground with Lele and Kama. There was a gust of wind, and I turned around to button Kama's jacket. When I turned around, she was gone. Her swing..." she gasps suddenly, as if kicked in the stomach. "Her swing. It was wrapped around a tree branch. And I never --- I never......" she stops as her voice gets out of control.

Rowan asks, quietly, "Never fixed it?"

Sashenka shakes her head. "Never saw her again."

Layla asks from her table, "What exactly happened today?"

Lucas sits down at the table, his large, square hands resting lightly on the smooth wood. "Was there a search?" he asks quietly.

Sashenka looks up at Layla, but answers Lucas' more chronological question. "Every day," she says softly, before actually looking at the smith. "I'm a Nitakk-ita. There are none better at finding their own." She looks at Rowan, then back at Lucas. "Dozens of us looked. None of us felt a thing. It was like she never was."

Rowan sits down in a nearby chair. "And... You saw her t'day. Shit, Sasha, that musta been like a kick in the damn stomach." He doesn't seem to notice his choice of names.

Sashenka sighs. "I saw a vision of her." Her face twitches spasmodically, caught between a smile and a sob. She hides her face behind her handkerchief, so her next words are muffled. "She's so beautiful." The sob wins.

Rowan again scootches around to lay a hand on her shoulder, and again is wordless while she sobs.

"Indeed, she is," Lucas agrees softly, with a glance toward the picture on the counter. "Where did you see her today?" he gently repeats Layla's earlier question, when the Nitakk-ita has regained some composure.

Sashenka chokes the tears off in a sigh. "She had... She..." Sasha changes her tack as emotion threatens to overcome her again. "This sounds crazy, but I was led to the vision by a fish."

Layla heads into the kitchen to replinish her tea. She returns with the kettle, and pours hot tea into empty mugs all around.
Layla steps around the counter and enters the kitchen.
Layla has left.

Rowan sounds remarkably down to earth as he mutters, "Nah. Visions c'n come from anywhere."

Sashenka nods. "The fish told me where to go and what to bring, and he was right. She was -- I thought she was still three, but that--" she swallows hard. "That was her daughter."

Rowan's eyes narrow slightly. "Her who?"

Sashenka's smile is radiant despite the tears in her eyes. "My little girl's little girl."

Rowan's eyes widen slightly. "Damn," he almost whispers. "That's almost a gift, there. T'see that..."

Lucas looks concerned. "Do you know the meaning of this vision?" he asks quietly.

Sashenka shakes her head. "I think she saw me," she whispers, and then cries out, "But I don't know where they ARE! There was a woman, and she asked Lele to come with her to see someone -- she called her 'the Lady' -- and, and there was a silver swing," she finishes lamely.

Rowan glances at Lucas, then back to Sashenka, pulling back slightly. "Well. You got us. So if we /can/ help..."

Sashenka sighs. "If I ever find a way."

Rex gently lets himself out into the dark, overcast evening, being as quiet as he can manage.

Rowan nods. Firmly. "If /we/ ever find a way, even."

Sashenka smiles gratefully at the young man. "Thank you."

Lucas looks vaguely nonplussed, as his genuine concern again wars with his consciousness of his own outsider status. He opens his mouth to speak, then shuts it again, frowning. He takes a sip of the tea Layla left him.

Sashenka lets her smile widen so it takes in Lucas and Tan Sin. Then she turns her head and spots the counter. "No one ate a single cupcake?"

Rowan rises to his feet to fetch his soup. "Go for it," he mutters at Lucas. "Oh, yeah," he explains, coming back. "Sorta, um, I thought it was sorta maybe an offerin' or something."

Tan Sin smiles slightly. "Some were taken. But yes, I was concerned that I did not know their true purpose."

Sashenka chuckles weakly. "Well, sort of -- but Lele would share. It's her birthday party." She manages to choke up very little as she says this.

Lucas smiles wanly. "M'mom always told me Ah had to eat my dinner before my dessert," he jokes lamely.

Rowan takes one, before fading off to clean a few pots.

Sashenka gets up and puts three cupcakes on a plate. She brings it back to the table, takes one, and pushes the plate forward. "Have one. Don't see chocolate every day." She smiles bravely.

"No, Ma'am, that's a certainty," Lucas agrees, taking a cupcake, and his cue to change the subject. "Ah brought your things back, by the way, all mended. Rowan put them away for you."

Sashenka smiles. "Oh, thank you. I've missed that kettle."

Tan Sin reaches out and takes a cupcake. "Thank you Sashenka." He smiles a little again "Where there is memory there is love." His voice tightens a little at the end, and his smile fades. He then shakes his head slightly and looks back at her "Whatever help I can offer."

Sashenka holds Tan Sin's eyes for a moment. "Trust me, when and if there is a time, I will let you know."

Lucas' eyes follow the Bastet as he turns away. "You have quite a... community here," he tells Sashenka. "Ah get the feeling that it's still... young, am Ah right? But it's growing stronger every day." He shakes his
head, perhaps in wonder, perhaps something else.

Sashenka nods to Lucas with a smile. "Oh, yes. You have it exactly. We're creating a home."

Tan Sin seems suddenly awkward. He eats his cupcake and then gathers the papers that he had brought into the diner with him. "I need to... well, it's late. Anyway, take care Sashenka. He turns to go, pauses for a moment and then turns back. He strides over and gives her a quick hug. He then turns and heads out into the night.

Sashenka's face lights with bemused delight at the hug from the taciturn Bastet. "Good night, Tan Sin."

Lucas watches the Bastet go. "It looks to me like it's shaping up to be a strong one," he observes, "though of course Ah haven't met everybody. That Hive's gonna have trouble on its back real soon." He grins. Then he
abruptly realizes they've been left alone and actually blushes (looks kinda silly on someone as big as he is). He covers it well, though: "Well, you've had a crappy day and Ah should be gettin' outta your hair and back to the barn. Poor Arslag probably thinks Ah've abandoned him..."

Sashenka smiles at Lucas' observation. "I sure hope so." Her expression turns puzzled at Lucas' blush, and she drops her gaze to spare him whatever embarrassment he feels. "If you need to go, don't let me keep you. Thanks for being here and letting me talk."

He regards her steadily, his blue eyes almost black in the candlelight. "Ah could stay, if you needed-- if you'd rather--" he falters, then gathers himself. "Ah know we only just met an all, but Ah know sometimes a body doesn't want to be left alone. All Ah'm sayin' is that if this is one of those times for you, Ah could stay..." he shakes his head. "Sleep on your threshold or something." He grins wryly.

Sashenka's eyes widen. "I -- there's room on the couch, but --" She takes a deep breath. "I think I'll be okay. And how would Arslag get along without you?" She mirrors Lucas' wry grin.

He smiles. "Alright, then," he says, standing. "Ah'll be in for breakfast before Ah get on the road again tomorrow." His hand twitches slightly as he stops himself from tipping his non-existent hat; he inclines his head instead, then shrugs on his coat.

Sashenka stands up as Lucas does. "You'll be back after your friend gets a look at the ocean?"

The smith's grin widens. "Yes Ma'am. Ah've promised a couple of folks in New Moon that Ah'd come back through. There's a young lady there might even be apprentice material... we'll see."

Sashenka's eyebrows lift and a grin brightens her round face. "Is that so? Wouldn't that be something. Well, I'll be looking for you. I hope you folks enjoy the ocean."

"Thanks very much, Ma'am," Lucas says at the door. "G'night."

Sashenka grasps the doorknob, prepared to close the door after the blacksmith. "No, thank you. Good night, Lucas."

The smith turns, and in a few long strides is down the stairs and gone into the night.