Pinecone has left the Very Deep Pit (they've been digging it deeper for further concealment) to relieve himself. Some things never change, even when you join the Snake People. He's learned that he can zlin better if he shuts his eyes, too, so he does that after finding a suitable spot.
Jardyce is huddled in a corner of said excavation, ~~ feigning sleep ~~ in hopes that his captors will be off their guard and let something useful slip.
Katsura is as far away from Jardyce as she can get in the aforesaid hole in the snow, wrapped in her cloak, striving to remain calm despite her increasing worries about Nick's return and ability to give transfer, and the erosive effects of Jardyce's hostility and suspicion.
Pinecone notes that he can no longer zlin either Jardyce or Lady Cat any more, but isn't worried about it. Both of them are safe enough. He's just fastening up his clothes when he zlins Nick what appears to be a long way off, judging by his selyn brightness. He looks a little different, though: instead of the single "white", there's a mixture of "colors" around the edges.
Nick is not convinced of the safety of his compatriots, with an armed Trempage watching for Simes. He somehow suspects that Trempage isn't going to wait for a polite greeting if he sees a Sime approaching, and this is ~~ worrisome ~~.
Pinecone is ~~ concerned ~~ and figures he better alert Kat. He goes back and jumps into the Pit.
Pinecone: [softly] Lady Cat?
Katsura: Yes, Pinecone?
Katsura unwraps her arms from around herself and also zlins Nick, faintly, from her position well beneath the snow cover.
Pinecone: Sosu Nick. I think. But he zlins different from when he left. I think you should go up and zlin. ~~ uncertain ~~ But be careful! ~~ concern ~~
Katsura: Yes, it's him. I shall.
Katsura turns to Jardyce, but decides to let him continue to believe that he's fooled them into thinking he's asleep.
Pinecone knows how much more sensitive Katsura is than himself, though not why. He watches Jardyce with the mixed patience of a novice hunter.
Katsura lightly climbs out of the pit, more like running up the side than climbing, really. As soon as she emerges she zlins Nick and another Gen.
Nick is definitely more ~~ alert ~~ than a few minutes ago.
Katsura: There's someone else with him and he zlins worried.
Pinecone: I think you should come back, then, so we can fix the branches.
Pinecone knows there's nothing to be done about the disturbed snow.
Katsura wonders if she should tell Pinecone to run and hide elsewhere, and if she is shot or taken away with Nick, to head south to Nivet on his own.
Trempage notices Nick's increased alertness, and wonders what's up.
Trempage: See something?
Nick: I'm not sure.
Nick hopes that what he saw wasn't Kat or Pinecone, anyway. He had hoped that the Simes would have the sense to zlin them coming, and stay under cover until he can get rid of Trempage.
Katsura wonders if Nick can divert the other Gen from the pit. It doesn't seem likely, with all the tracks leading to it. But Nick doesn't zlin as distressed as he'd be if he was being coerced, or expected Kat to be murdered.
Nick looks away from the spot where he thought he saw movement, just in case.
Katsura can zlin the other Gen clearly now. He's an old man, in good health, calm and self-confident.
Trempage: We must be almost up to where Jardyce's horse lamed himself. Let's see if he answers.
Trempage cups his hands around his mouth.
Trempage: Jardyce! Jardyce! You around here?
Jardyce "awakens" with alacrity.
Jardyce: Simes! Watch out for the Simes!
Trempage is ~~ startled ~~. Simes, but Jardyce, sans firearms, is still alive? He readies his rifle.
Pinecone pounces on Jardyce with Sime speed and wraps one arm around him and covers his mouth with the other hand.
Jardyce ~~ startles ~~ at being grabbed so suddenly, and starts kicking as he tries to chew his way past Pinecone's hand.
Katsura: Let him go, Pinecone. Your rescue party is here, Mr. Jardyce, let me help you up.
Pinecone lets go, as ordered, and relaxes very suddenly, leaving Jardyce off-balance.
Katsura catches him before his weight comes down on his bad foot, and steadies him.
Jardyce: Keep away from me!
Katsura: Mr. Jardyce, you are free to go, with or without my assistance in climbing out.
Trempage: Stay behind me, Nick. Get ready to run. When they chase you, I'll pick them off.
Nick reaches for Trempage's elbow, trying to push the gun aside.
Trempage jerks the horse around to avoid Nick's grab.
Trempage: Well, if you're afraid to run, stay close, and I'll try to keep them off both of us.
Nick: There's no danger. No one has to be hurt here.
Trempage: Where are you, Jardyce? They got you tied up?
Jardyce: I'm lame! I can't get out of this pit!
Katsura, irritable with need and exasperated by Jardyce's insistence that he's a captive, is tempted to toss him out.
Trempage: Where are the Simes?
Trempage looks around, hoping that they aren't sneaking up on him. Well, he's got the horse. They can grab Nick first.
Nick keeps pressing Trempage, hoping to make the horse jumpy enough to spoil any chance of accurate shooting.
Katsura: Nick, we're here.
Katsura figures their cover is blown anyway.
Katsura: Mr. Jardyce won't let me help him climb out.
Katsura is worried, but keeps her nager calm for Pinecone's benefit.
Nick ~~ winces ~~ at having his cover blown when he's right next to a loaded weapon.
Trempage turns the weapon on Nick,
Trempage: What are you, some kind of Genrunner?
Nick: No. But those Simes over there are no danger to anyone, least of all your friend Jardyce.
Trempage: Well, you just go over there on your own, then, and get Jardyce out. I've got you covered.
Trempage is deliberately ambiguous about just what he means by covering Nick.
Nick looks at Trempage ~~ seriously ~~.
Nick: I'd be glad to. Like I said, the Simes over there aren't a danger to anyone. Just don't shoot until we can get this resolved.
Trempage: I'll use my best judgment.
Trempage keeps his eyes on Nick.
Trempage: Hey, Jardyce. I'm sending a Gen to help you. He claims those Simes are harmless. They seem to know his name, anyway.
Jardyce looks at Kat and Pinecone ~~ skeptically ~~.
Jardyce: They were talking about one of their group who went to town for supplies. They didn't say he was a person, though.
Jardyce is a bit ~~ doubtful ~~.
Katsura grits her teeth. She did tell him Nick is a Gen. Apparently he didn't believe her.
Trempage keeps his rifle trained on Nick.
Trempage: Maybe you should show me your arms, Nick.
Pinecone looks at Lady Cat, ~~ puzzled ~~. A person? But he doesn't say anything, of course.
Nick shrugs and rolls up his sleeve.
Nick: I'm as Gen as you are.
Trempage: Didn't think one of them could fake it that well. Go ahead, get Jardyce out and back here.
Nick: Just don't shoot us before we can get back here.
Trempage: No reason to shoot him, and probably not you, either.
Nick: Or the Simes, either. One of them is a channel, and the other one isn't a danger to anyone, either.
Trempage wonders if Nick is stalling to assist an ambush. He wishes he had eyes on the back of his head. He doesn't want to take his eyes off Nick to look around while Nick is close enough to grab for the rifle.
Trempage: Get going.
Nick sighs, and starts tramping through the snow towards the pit.
Katsura is ~~ relieved ~~ at Nick's approach.
Katsura: [Simelan] He let me heal his foot, but he won't let me help him out of the pit. He won't believe he's not a prisoner.
Nick sticks to English.
Nick: Kat, Pinecone, stay down there. I don't want you getting hurt by accident.
Nick hopes having names to put with the tentacles will make Trempage a little less trigger-happy.
Katsura nods, and backs away, putting an arm around Pinecone and projecting ~~ reassurance ~~.
Nick peers into the pit through the hole in the branches.
Jardyce looks up at Nick in ~~ disgust ~~.
Nick grins down at Jardyce.
Nick: Well, I've been know to love some Simes, anyway.
Pinecone smiles at the joke. He zlins that Lady Cat is much more tense than he is.
Nick: Come on, let's get you out of here, Mr. Jardyce.
Katsura hopes Nick won't injure himself pulling the man out of the pit, but doesn't want to get kicked in the head helping, either.
Jardyce limps closer to Nick, even though that brings him a bit closer to the Simes, as well.
Nick looks at Jardyce and shakes his head in ~~ bemusement ~~.
Nick: I don't suppose you can climb, or you wouldn't be limping like that. Are you going to be sensible and let Kat give you a boost?
Nick is ~~ hopeful ~~ that the situation can be resolved peacefully.
Pinecone: Mister Jardyce?
Pinecone: I am very sorry for holding you down before. Can I make amends by helping you out of the pit?
Jardyce looks at Pinecone, who apart from the deadly tentacles looks like an ordinary kid.
Nick pounces on this display of uncertainty.
Pinecone: I am strong enough now to do it, Mr. Jardyce.
Nick: Here. Give me your hand, and Pinecone can boost you from behind.
Nick reaches to take Jardyce's hand before he can figure out another way to be too stubborn.
Pinecone administers the suggested boost as soon as he zlins that Nick's grip is firm.
Jardyce finds himself rather unceremoniously flying out of the pit. He yells as his weight hits the sore foot.
Katsura shakes her head. Jardyce wouldn't let her help him, although she healed his broken toe, but he let Pinecone, a renSime, do it. Who can figure Wild Gens?
Jardyce is not really clear on the greater control of channels, and Pinecone looks a lot more harmless than Kat.
Pinecone zlins the ~~ pain ~~ from Jardyce's impact and runs over to Katsura to hide in her field. His nonjunct instincts are good even without training, it seems.
Katsura hugs and ~~ reassures ~~ him.
Jardyce stands, a bit unsteadily due to the sore foot.
Trempage watches suspiciously, waiting to see whether this is some kind of setup. He feels like his ears are swiveling back, to hear if anyone is creeping up on him.
Trempage: You okay, Jardyce?
Jardyce sees Trempage and starts staggering towards him.
Jardyce: Trempage, thank goodness.
Trempage cautiously approaches on the horse.
Trempage: Not leading me into a trap, are you?
Jardyce: I saw two of them. Don't mean there aren't more.
Trempage nods, and slides off the horse.
Trempage: Mount up. Let's get the hell out of here.
Nick: There aren't, if you care. And it's perfectly safe to bring the horse up.
Trempage keeps the rifle trained on Nick. If he's a Shoodi's goat, the Simes probably value him enough for it they wouldn't want him shot.
Jardyce tries to scramble into the saddle, but can't do it with only one functional foot.
Jardyce: I need a hand, here.
Trempage backs up and offers his shoulder as a handhold.
Jardyce manages to get into the saddle on the second attempt.
Trempage keeps hold of the reins, to deter Jardyce from taking off with the horse, leaving him for the Simes.
Nick makes no move to join them.
Trempage: Got Buckets' rifle in the scabbard there. He gave it to Nick, but I had him give it to me.
Jardyce frees the gun and checks it to make sure it's loaded and functional.
Jardyce: Thanks. I'm glad you came looking for me, Trempage.
Trempage: Buckets was worried when your horse came back without you. We'll meet up with him down the slope. His horse went lame here too.
Trempage starts to lead the horse away.
Trempage: Keep watch behind us.
Jardyce: No fear.
Pinecone nods, even though nobody but Katsura can see him. "No fear" is what the Town People need.
Katsura has been quiet, ~~ comforted ~~ by Nick's presence, and glad that the Wild Gens are leaving with no violence.
Katsura: Nick? Do you think they may come back? If you're up to it, we should get away from here.
Nick: You're right. It will take them some time to get back to town, but when they have, there's a decent chance that they'll come back in larger numbers.
Katsura jumps lightly out of the pit, and reaches for Nick's hands.
Nick takes Kat's hands, ~~ relieved ~~ that the situation ended without bloodshed.
Katsura: Your field has stopped rising -- you're as replete as you're going to get this month.
Katsura struggles with intil as she zlins the newly produced selyn dissipating, wasted.
Pinecone jumps out of the pit too, and just out of ~~ exuberance ~~ turns a somersault in midair before landing on his feet.
Nick: Do you want to take transfer before we go on? There's time, I think.
Katsura: I can hold off. We need to discuss it. [Simelan] And I'd rather Pinecone didn't zlin it.
Nick: Is the pit enough insulation?
Katsura: I'd feel better if we get away from here.
Nick: All right. Just don't wait too long.
Katsura begins to break trail, away from the village Nick visited.
Nick follows, glad that he isn't breaking trail.
Katsura: Did you manage to buy what we needed? And mail the letters?
Nick: Yes. Then I stopped at the saloon for a beer: it would have been out of character to just leave.
Katsura nods. She hopes the locals will let the letters, addressed to Nivet, get through.
Nick: That's when Jardyce's horse came back.
Katsura: I was worried when I zlinned that man with you. But you didn't zlin like you were being coerced.
Nick: He's a retired soldier. He spent years fighting Simes, and I was worried that he'd shoot you or Pinecone.
Katsura: He has good control. He stayed calm. So he might have been less dangerous than an inexperienced one who would panic and shoot, I suppose.
Pinecone trails after Nick and Katsura, listening intently but saying nothing further.
Nick: On the other hand, a nonsoldier might not have suspected Simes at all.
Katsura is trying not to focus on her upcoming transfer to the exclusion of all else.
Katsura: What I learned in Cottonwood City helped me a lot, here, in that pit with an injured, hostile, suspicious Gen. But I don't understand why he let me heal his broken toe, with very little persuasion, then wouldn't let me help him out of the pit, but let Pinecone do it. And he never believed that we weren't holding him captive, even though I offered to help him get home.
Nick: People aren't always rational.
Katsura nods, then switches to Simelan.
Katsura: Nick, do you have experience controlling a transfer? I'm willing to let you control, if you want to.
Nick: Would that make you less worried about it?
Katsura: Would it make you less worried?
Katsura is actually afraid that Nick will make her burn him, if he's controlling.
Nick reaches for Kat's hands, tangling his fingers in her tentacles.
Katsura grasps his hands. and leans against him.
Nick: I'm not worried. Concerned, yes. It's important that this be as good a transfer as we can manage. But I'm not worried that either of us is going to be permanently damaged.
Katsura: I don't want you to be even temporarily damaged. And if I burn you, I'll have a hard time forgiving myself. But I won't burn you, if you don't make me. I outrate you, but you're very strong... and very hard to resist.
Nick is, in fact, only 25% less hard to resist than his notorious sire. Or grandsire, if you prefer.
Nick: Kat, I would never force you to do anything against your principles. But we do both have to be able to travel. A bad burn for me would prevent that, but so would a very bad transfer for you. We've got to strike a balance we can both live with.
Nick is ~~ apologetic but firm ~~.
Katsura nods, and engages Nick's beautiful nager more deeply, suppressing a surge of intil.
Nick works to dampen the intil, judging that Kat needs to be clearheaded to think more than she needs her need to peak, just now.
Nick: I'm not a masochist. But it's going to be hard enough for you to get a short transfer. We can't afford for it to be any shorter than absolutely necessary.
Katsura: It's not the capacity, but the speed. I'll take a shunt first. I can keep to your top speed -- it's not that far below the bottom of my acceptable range. I can push it a little, but I'll back off before I burn you.
Nick: Kat, have you Qualified a Donor before?
Katsura: No, but I do tend to upgrade them all, at least a bit.
Nick: That's unfortunate. We might do better to treat this in a similar fashion: push the limits. I'm afraid that if you try to play it safe, you won't get enough satisfaction to be functional afterwards.
Katsura: I'll push a little harder than is completely cautious, Nick. I'll also drain you very deeply. We'll be a better match next time, if you want a next time.
Nick gives a rather crooked grin.
Nick: Somehow, I suspect that I just might.
Katsura's intil rises again, against her efforts to suppress it. That zlin of selyn dissipating to waste is very stimulating. She squeezes Nick's hands.
Nick's ~~ eagerness ~~ for this transfer is also pretty distracting.
Katsura: Let's get a bit further away. They won't want to travel in the dark in this terrain, so we can probably stop around sundown. Another hour or so.
Katsura continues to break trail for several more kilometers, stopping as the light begins to fade.
Katsura: Let's camp here, in this grove. I think we can risk a small fire, and have some hot food and tea, now that we've got a pot.
Nick: That sounds lovely.
Nick is ~~ slightly chilled ~~ despite his heavy Gen-style winter coat.
Katsura unilaterally decides that food and heat can wait for after transfer. She explains to Pinecone that she and Nick need to be alone for a while, and asks him to make camp and build a fire and melt snow for tea and cooking.
Pinecone does what Lady Cat asks.
Katsura: I noticed a sheltered spot a little ways back, out of Pinecone's zlinning range.
Nick's ~~ anticipation ~~ grows a bit, although he keeps it from being a bother to the renSime.
Katsura picks up a bedroll and heads back up the trail, remaining duoconscious with some effort, until she reaches the deadfall with a pocket of dry leaves under it.
Nick helps spread the bedroll, letting his ~~ anticipation ~~ rouse Kat's intil.
Katsura's intil doesn't need much rousing, just less suppressing. She sighs with pleasure. She crawls into the little shelter and helps Nick arrange the blankets under and over them.
Katsura: I don't want you to get cold...
Nick chuckles in very Genlike ~~ amusement ~~.
Katsura's arms are wet with ronaplin.
Nick: Right now, for some strange reason, I couldn't care less about the temperature.
Nick reaches for Kat's arms, running his hands delicately along her tentacles.
Katsura closes her eyes, and trembles at the touch.
Nick's technique as he works to get Kat to the proper state of intil is just non-standard enough to be very interesting, indeed.
Katsura: Wait... let me do the shunt...
Nick pauses, ~~ sensibly but impatiently ~~, and adjusts his field to facilitate.
Katsura takes a deep breath, forces herself to objective, channeling mode, grasps Nick's arms, and shunts enough selyn from her secondary into her primary to leave only enough space for what Nick has for her.
Katsura: There. I'm all yours, now.
Katsura releases her grasp, but strokes Nick's wonderfully attractive arms with her tentacles.
Nick slides his arms parallel to hers, teasing her laterals with a fingertip.
Katsura licks Nick's fingers with her lateral tips, trusting him with these most vulnerable parts.
Nick smiles: he's not had enough channels who trusted him implicitly recently not to ~~ treasure ~~ the gesture.
Katsura smiles with pleasure at Nick's reaction.
Nick lets Kat's intil rise, his own ~~ eagerness ~~ blocking any distress.
Katsura engages nagers as deeply as possible. One good thing about the mismatch is that there's no risk of a dependency.
Nick's nager loses nothing on closer inspection. He lets his hands settle into position.
Katsura luxuriates in intense intil without distress, the beauty of Nick's field, offered to her with such eagerness. She clasps his arms gently, and extends her laterals, again trusting him in the gesture.
Nick leans closer, offering his lips.
Katsura tightens her grasp and makes the fifth contact, almost overwhelmed by the intensity of her reaction, almost reluctant to begin drawing and end this timeless moment.
Nick's nager ~~ sparkles ~~ with silent laughter, and he adjusts his field to let a tempting trickle of selyn flow.
Katsura begins to draw, rapidly increasing her speed to a level she knows is near Nick's top rating.
Nick ~~ revels ~~ in the sensation, lowering his barriers completely.
Katsura pushes the speed, intensely aware of and glorying in Nick's response.
Nick has a high genetic capacity for hedonism, as well as the professional sense to know that Kat's satisfaction is going to have to come vicariously this month.
Katsura continues to increase her draw speed, exceeding Nick's rating, pushing him harder, to just the edge of a burn.
Nick is ~~ convinced ~~ that Kat is not shorting herself more than necessary, and his last concern vanishes in ~~ intense satisfaction ~~
Katsura exults in Nick's beautiful, intense and open response. She's almost replete, and finishes by carefully topping up her primary from Nick's deepest reserves.
Nick waits ~~ patiently ~~ for Kat to release him.
Katsura does so, reluctantly. She doesn't want a whole very stressful month's postreaction to hit her just yet.
Katsura: That was splendid, Nick.
Nick tuts in the semi-approved Donor fashion.
Nick: Don't hold back, Kat. It's just the two of us. There's no schedule, no commitments, no one else with demands on your time. No reason not to indulge yourself.
Katsura nods, wraps her arms around Nick, rests her head on his chest and bursts into tears.
Nick wraps his arms around Kat, offering ~~ comfort ~~ and ~~ security ~~. And a new, clean handkerchief he picked up in town.
Katsura uses the handkerchief to avoid getting Nick any dirtier than he already is. She enjoys Nick's projection, which helps her calm down.
Katsura: I can't believe some of the things I did this month.
Nick: You've done well, in very trying circumstances.
Katsura: I couldn't have, without all your help. You've been very good for me.
Nick: It's part of the job description.
Nick's attitude towards his profession is more of a vocation, actually.
Katsura strokes Nick's cheek, twining her tentacles in his increasingly impressive beard. She kisses his throat.
Nick chuckles, and tweaks her ear gently.
Katsura: I like the beard. A lot.
Nick: You do? I've been told it makes me look, well, like a rogue.
Katsura: It's just so Gen, so masculine.
Nick: Now, that last is something every fellow likes to hear.
Katsura continues fondling Nick's beard with her tentacles, and kisses his throat again.
Nick reaches up to stroke Kat's hair.
Katsura's hair is even thicker and bushier than Nick's beard.
Nick is somewhat fixated on Farris channels, and finds the unruly mop ~~ attractive ~~.
Katsura: Even depleted to the bottom, your nager has that exquisitely beautiful zlin to it.
Nick: You're zlinning again this soon? I must have done even worse than I expected.
Nick can't manage to be upset about it, or anything else, just now.
Katsura: Don't worry, I'm always like this.
Nick: Have I ever mentioned how much I like the way that little lock of hair hangs down over your forehead?
Katsura: Really? It drives me crazy. The Farris cowlick.
Katsura zlins that Nick's selyn production rate is up 1.37% since transfer.
Nick: But it's so... distinctive. A little bit of imperfection in a family known for being larger than life.
Katsura: No shortage of imperfections in Farrises. You just can't zlin them through our giant opaque nagers.
Nick: But your long-suffering Donors know it all.
Katsura: Don't want you suffering. Want the best for you.
Katsura hasn't slept much the past week, and now that she's out of need, it's catching up with her.
Nick weighs Kat's sleepiness, the fact that she doesn't usually sleep for long at a time, and the probable time it will take Pinecone to set up camp, and leans forward to kiss Kat's forehead.
Nick: Go on, take a little nap. It's a good evening for snuggling.
Katsura: Better things to do than sleep...
Katsura snuggles closer and kisses him.
Nick gives a very male chuckle.
Nick: Now, there's a suggestion.
Nick kisses back with ~~ enthusiasm ~~.