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Chiela paused in the open doorway of the lodge, a bit overwhelmed by the sight in front of her. Even from this distance, the green mantle of the jungle was staggering, thick and lush and likely populated by thousands of different species - it made her a bit homesick for earth - though, comparatively, Earth had been her home for very little time - despite the fact that she’d never seen these sorts of sights on Earth personally, only through photographs.

Dioscorus placed one of his big hands on her shoulder and nudged her forward and out of the way of the door. She turned to him, gave him an embarrassed sort of smile and moved past the doorway and down the well-trodden path. This place was as little developed as Chiela had always imagine the villages within Earth’s forest would have been. All the little houses - though, aside, from the lodge, hovel was really the more appropriate word - were thin, thatched roof, scrap=wooden structures, leaning in the wind. People seemed to put them up expecting them to be knocked down again. Even the roads were changeable, being only dirt paths really and given to eroding away in the rain. Nothing at all seemed permanent here; everything was in a constant state of flux, especially the jungle, humming with life as it was, the growth of trees and thickening of brush, the blossoming of hot house flowers, the rustle and loud cries of wild animals - not counting Venka, though Venka might prefer to be counted, who knew - and the flights of hundreds of birds and insects.

Chiela followed behind Pipra, at Terasu’s side. Terasu looked particularly grim which Chiela didn’t know how to feel about, Surely things couldn’t be that bad, could they? They’d found the place where Ixchel rested, supposedly, and while Chiela wouldn’t have wanted to be left alone out there, amid the savage jungle, she could imagine a worse place for someone who lived by communing with the earth. Although how they were going to take the communer away from the earth without stirring up some kind of trouble, Chiela didn’t know. Maybe that’s was what had Terasu looking so unhappy. After all, she and this Voice seemed to live in some kind of fucked up codependent relationship. A codependent relationship that involved speaking for the planet and ensuring its survival which just made it that much more fucked up, if you asked Chiela.

The deeper they go, the thicker the jungle gets: they're already having to walk single-file down the path, pushing past the underbrush and tall growing, exotic bushes and stalked-plants, but the path is becoming down-right difficult to walk as the plants choke off the trail. Chiela's having to pick past them carefully and now she wishes she had brought something to cut through like Nikolao did. Hindsight's 20/20 as they say. The humidity's rising as well, prickling sweat on the back of her neck where her hair sticks in wet curls. Terasu's grumbling behind her, but why and about what, Chiela can't tell. Probably, she can guess. Terasu's been grumbling about Nikolao's idiocy and irresponsibility pretty much since theyg got there. Some of it Chiela can even agree with; all that stuff about leaving a planet without a Voice or a Guardian just sounds like stupidity, whether the council ordered it or not. Or precisly because the Council ordered it, when it's obviously composed of a lot of egotistical boot-lickers, the sort that eliminate people essential to the planet’s survival rather than giving up a position of power. Hey, if the planet itself tells you you're not fit to watch over it, Chiela figures you'd better listen.

Chiela trips over an exposed root just as she gets fwapped right in the face with what looks supsiciously like an Elephant Ear, the kind that grows on Earth; she seen them before, in nurseries, and they're just about the only plant she can recognize aside from maybe roses. She's looking to push past it when Dioscorus takes his sword - the sword he used to cut through Nikolao's metal bonds, which seems like over kill for dealing with a plant - and cuts it out of her way instead. Chiela gives him a weak smile in return, still not quite up to looking him in the face, which just makes him give another one of those chuffing little laughs. Probably, she’ll never stop being intimidated by him, which will never stop being funny to him.

Ahead, the trails starting to widen again, and the smell of hothouse flowers is growing stronger, more and more overwhelming. Chiela sneezes and then covers her noise with one sleeve because she may not have allergies but this is all a bit much for her, too much pollen in the are, too many exotic whatever-they-ares pressing in around her.

As the trees thin out and sunlight pierces the canopy, the sound of birds singing and insects humming fades further and further away, as if they’ve entered a sacred place where none dare make a noise, like some of the monasteries Chiela had read about in Tibet or China. The place even had a sacred feel to it, an intangible something in the air, that had the hair on the back of Chiela's neck standing up on end.

They come around the final bend in the path which opens up onto - wow, a totally lush field, ringed by staggeringly tall trees - which must be hundreds of years old, if not more - and full up with exotic, hot-house flowers, red and blue and purple, like nothing Chiela had seen before. Some of the things, if they took a mind to being hostile, could probably swallow her whole.

In the center of the field there’s a woman with her head bent, kneeling with her hands folded in her lap. The closer they get the stranger she begins to look. A quarter of the way across the field Chiela realized she has snakes - live, writhing snakes - instead of hair, like some sort of Medusa - hopefully one whose gave won’t turn anyone to stone. Closer than that and Chiela realized that the women - Ixchel, she must be - is not just kneeling on the ground but actually rooted into it, like those old trees you saw with roots trailing all along their sides. She has flowers not tucked among her clothes as Chiela had first thought, but actually growing from her skin, her shoulders and chest and down along her arms, with little creeper vines tangled with her fingers. When she - Ixchel - raises her head to look at them, apparently having heard their approach, Chiela isn’t surprised to find - she’s starting to get used to the strangeness of all this which was either a really good or a really bad sign - that her eyes are milky white and pupilless. She seems to look right through them, uncomprehending, lights-out, an empty vessel waiting to be filled.

"Do you see?" Terasu hisses, "This is why you don't fucking take a Voice from her planet. Another planet'll try to claim her."

Nikolao scowls but seems to have nothing to say in reply to that.

Terasu rolls her eyes and says, "You're fucking lucky you have me along, you know that?"

"Oh, yes," Nikolao says, snapping finally, "You make me feel more fortunate by the day," then looks surprised with himself and as if he regrets saying anything at all.

Terasu just rolls her eyes - again - and snatches the crystal pendant from out of Nikolao's hand.

"How about I handle this one," she says, "You just stand there and look like an idiot. It's what you're good at after all."

Terasu stomps across the last few feet remaining between Ixchel and their motley little crew of adventurers, and drops to her knees in front of her, raising one hand to touch her cheek, then to drag her hand down her throat to the hollow between her collarbones, a caress, intimate and knowing, which makes Chiela feel as if she’s watching in on something personal, something she shouldn’t see. Terasu lifts her hand to turn Ixchel’s face so that she could look into her eyes.

“Ju’t ujnf up xblf vq opx (It’s time to wake up, now).” Terasu says, and, oh, great, another language that Chiela couldn’t make heads or tails of. Terasu takes one of Ixchel’s hands, unfolds it, sets the crystal in it, and folds it on itself again. Ixchel breaks from looking uncomprehendingly at Terasu’s face to look uncomprehendingly at her own hand.

“Zpv’wf cffo tmffqjoh (You’ve been sleeping long enough),” Terasu says, “(Amah needs you, now).”

“Amah?” Ixchel echoes faintly, voice hoarse as if she’s waking from a deep sleep. “Amaterasu?” Which, hey, Chiela can figure out what that means, at least, no translation needed. And, suddenly, she can actually feel as the humidity rises around them, the air pregnant with rain, the clouds forming over head. Which never stops being cool and freaky in equal parts. Seriously, Terasu can control the weather, which was, like, Biblical. Even by space dragon standards, that was weird.

Ixchel lifts her face towards the sky and closes her eyes as the rain began to fall, and, seriously, Terasu could have warned her. Them. Her. Whatever, a warning would have been nice. Surely they have umbrellas, even if they do spend most of their time between-planets.

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