"Tell me again why we're doing this?" Benge moaned, leaning down to massage his feet. "We've been running around this forest looking for the Leader, and all we've found are dirt and trees. It's not like we have anything to worry about from that pervert."

"So what're you trying to say, Benge?" Kyle asked, slanting his eyes in the barbaroi's direction. "Are you trying to say that I'm ugly?"

"I'm saying that you're lucky they don't lock you away for indecent exposure," Benge responded flatly. "You could make a grown man think you're mooning him just by smiling at him."

Instead of responding in anger, Kyle only shrugged his shoulders and concentrated on inspecting the blade that he had pried from a tree earlier. Mashira still wasn't talking to him because of that accident, and was currently propped up against another tree, eyeing Kyle sourly.

"You're one to talk about ugly, Benge," Kyle said casually, running his finger along the blade's edge. "You're always running around with that make-up and hood. I don't think anyone's ever seen what your face really looks like beneath it all. What's up with that?"

"You're not going to get started on me like you did with D, are you?" Benge asked flippantly. "I wouldn't advice going there."

"Like I'd be interested in knowing what you really look like," Kyle snorted without looking at him. "There's probably a good reason why you insist on hiding your face, and I don't want to know about it."

"What do you know?" Benge breathed, laying back against the boulder he was sitting on. "I could have the face of an angel."

Kyle almost choked on the laughter that filled his throat, but he managed to swallow it down before it coughed out. Benge noticed, and his eyes suddenly developed an irritated tic.

"Hey," Mashira suddenly interrupted. He unfolded his locked arms, his nose angled up in the air. "You guys smell that?"

"Smell what?" Kyle asked as he continued to inspect his blade.

"It smells like---" Mashira took a deep breath, inhaling with gusto, "---like . . . roasted peanuts."

"Peanuts!" Benge exclaimed, sitting up in a whir of movement. He whipped away from the boulder he'd been laying on and ran over to Mashira's side with Kyle's confused eyes following the barbaroi every step of the way. Kyle watched as both Mashira and Benge sniffed with reverence, their faces drawn up into expressions of absolute pleasure and delight.

"Okay," Kyle said, dragging the word out slightly. "So what's the big deal?"

"Fool," Benge said, shooting an annoyed glance over in Kyle's direction. "Peanuts are the meaning of life itself."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You get your flying ass back down here this instant!"

Nolt and Caroline just watched as Carmila seethed, her face red with anger, her hands clutched into tight fists of fury by her sides. She had her glowing eyes fixed on a tiny sparrow perched near the top of a tall tree. It watched with impassive ennui as Carmila hissed and snarled at it.

"Why don't you leave the bird alone?" Caroline asked in boredom, her eyebrows hitched. Carmila had been cursing the sparrow for a full hour. Carmila's head suddenly whipped around, her teeth gnashing together as she glared at the barbaroi woman with incredulous irritation.

"That thing tried to relieve itself on me!" she hissed. "I'm not going to let that go unpunished. Even animals must come to fear and respect the Nobility!"

"It was just an accident," Nolt argued gently. "It's just a bird . . . and you're making too much noise. You're going to screw us up, Carmila."

"So the hell what!" Carmila shouted. She whipped around again, once more focusing her burning gaze on the sparrow which had gone on to preen its feathers with indifference, having lost all interest in the vampiress. "Don't you turn your back on me, you little devil!" Carmila screamed. "Don't make me come up there, damn it!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Meier," Charlotte cooed, her beautiful eyes becoming dewy and starry.

"Yes, my love?" Meier answered lovingly, stopping in mid-stride so that he could gaze down at Charlotte's beautiful face. "Is there something wrong?"

Charlotte blushed slightly, suddenly becoming very shy. "I just wanted to tell you how much I loved you. It's so romantic here with all this beautiful scenery."

"Charlotte, my darling one," Meier began, his voice sweet and smooth. "Nothing on this Earth could ever possibly measure up to your own beauty."

"Oh, Meier."

"Charlotte."

"Meier."

"Charlotte."

"Meier."

Several yards ahead of them, Borgoff slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand and then left it there.

"This has got to stop," he growled under his breath. "You guys---" he droned, turning around as he did so. "This has got to be the fiftieth time we've---"

"Don't interrupt while Charlotte is trying to speak, human," Meier snapped, his red eyes suddenly glaring.

"What the hell, Meier," Borgoff snapped back. "We've got a job to do! How many times are you two going to have to---"

"I said enough, you heathen," Meier cut in. Borgoff's left eye began to twitch as he and Meier launched themselves into another staring match. Charlotte watched as the two of them became engrossed in their battle of wills and decided that she'd make the best of her time by picking the pretty, white flowers she saw growing just a few feet away. They were the perfect things to go in her hair today.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"D, I don't really feel as though we have a working partnership going on here," Leila commented flatly as she followed the dhampire through some thick brush. She waited for a response---any kind of response---but she got nothing back but more silence.

Weapons, she thought with growing anger. I . . . need . . . bigger weapons . . . She could feel the compulsion to grab her blaster making her fingers itch.

No, she rebuked herself. Violence is not the answer . . .

"Look, D," Leila sighed as she stopped in the middle of the brush. "I refuse to move from this spot until you tell me what you're up to. First, it's the women's lingerie we left all scattered back there, and now we're traipsing around with no real plan or purpose other than t---"

D suddenly stopped and turned around to look at her, freezing her words in her throat. His gray eyes were intense . . . and distracted. He stared right through her, at something directly behind her. Leila could feel her stomach tighten in apprehension, could feel herself wanting to glance over her shoulder to get a good look at whatever-it-was that D was watching so attentively, but she couldn't bring herself to make any sudden moves. So she watched D instead, and waited for him to give her some sort of sign, some sort of message.

Then she caught the smell of . . . roasting peanuts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Down at Barnum's fair, one evening I was there, when I heard a showman, shouting underneath the flair---Oh, I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts, there they are all standing in a row! Big ones, small ones, some as big as your head! Give 'em a twist, a flick of the wrist, that's what the showman said!"

Grove stopped singing long enough to let out a giant sneeze. He sniffed as he straightened, rubbing a finger under his nose in bewilderment.

"That's strange," he said to himself. He was still in the hot springs, soaking in the heated water with nothing but steam all around him. No reason for him to suddenly be getting the sniffles.

There were only three reasons why he'd sneeze just out of the blue like that. Grove tried to remember what they were . . . but then he suddenly got a whiff of roasted peanuts in the air. It was very faint and was hidden within the spicy scent of the hot springs itself, but it was a definite smell that he was able to catch.

"Hmm," he hummed to himself. Then he shrugged, and smiled to himself. "Where are those guys?" he wondered as he looked around the empty spring. "I'm getting bored to all Hell all by myself . . . Oh! I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts!Every ball you throw will make me rich! There stands me wife, the idol of me life, singing, 'roll a bowl a bowl a penny a pitch.' Singing, 'roll a bowl a bowl a penny a pitch, roll a bowl a bowl a penny a pitch, roll a bowl a bowl, roll a bowl a bowl, roll a bowl a bowl a penny a pitch!'