See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and warnings

Star Fox Odium

Chapter 6 - Friends

Stone crumbled under Krystal's paws, her breath catching in her throat. Instinctively she reached a hand out, grasping for support, catching herself – then hissing at the hot sensation, pulling her paw back. Little streaks of scarlet stained the jagged, barbed stone, oozing from cuts in the pad of her palm.

Nursing her paw against her breast, Krystal twitched her tail, glaring at the path before her. A narrow, meandering trail crawled up the craggy side of a mountain – mountain, or volcano. The sky above her rumbled with a distant storm, dark clouds roiling with soot, pregnant with oncoming rain. Spires of jagged, translucent obsidian rose above her, faint wind whistling and humming in razor-edged crevices, her reflection twisted and distorted in the glassy facets. Steam smelling of blood and rotten eggs hissed and bubbled from vents in the cliff, the air thick with the moist, heavy stench of it. Nestles of thick, rugged brambles, studded with moistly dripping thorns as long as her thumb, dotted the landscape in the few places that held life.

She wasn't sure how she'd come to this place – everything was a blur to her. Around her, the trail was narrow and treacherous – shards of jagged lava-glass cut at unwary paws (Why wasn't she wearing her boots?), thorny vines happily tore at her skin and snarled in her fur if she gave them half a chance, rocky gaps blasted gouts of boiling steam (Her armored, heat-resistant flight suit would've been so very convenient now..) – every time she looked back, it seemed like the path back turned into little more than a sheer drop down the mountainside, happy to maul her into a pile of quivering fur if she slipped. On she went, then – the place had to end sometime, didn't it..?

It did, though not how she might've expected. The path ahead turned steeper and steeper, until she was more climbing than walking – grasping onto the least-jagged edges she could find, hauling herself bodily up, acutely aware of spires of jagged stone under her if she fell – and suddenly, a shadow fell over her. The lip of a cave – little more than a jagged crack in stone the color of dried gore. A hot, wet breath of air washed over her, stinking of sulfur and decay – threatening, for a brief moment, to blow her right back over the edge as she fought to clamber in.

She wasn't alone. It was dark – so dark, and quiet, save for the hiss of that foul wind – but instinctively, she knew she wasn't alone in the pit.

"Fox?" she called out, hoping against hope. "Father? Mother?"

Immediately, she felt her own foolishness as the darkness swallowed up her voice. What would Fox be doing here? (What was she doing here herself, for the matter?) And her parents.. Wishful thinking. Shaking her head, Krystal steeled herself – and stepped into the shadows.

Reduced into feeling the walls with her hands, she forged on – every step slow and careful, probing the dark as much a she could – straining her eyes to see in the gloom. The darkness was oppressive, all-encompassing, muffling the sounds of her footsteps, her breathing, the very beat of her heart – had it been minutes since she'd slipped into the hole in the cliff? Hours? Days? For one mad moment she thought she'd spend the rest of her life here, crawling deeper and deeper into the heart of the world – and then she felt it, a change in the wall.

Previously, it'd been nothing but warm, rough and jagged stone under her paw. Now – now her fingers had found something – a slender, finger-thick tube, clinging to the wall, warmer to the touch – snake, instinct screamed at her, making her pull away before she realized it wasn't moving. A vine of some sort? Clinging to the wall, feeding on the moisture in the air and minerals in the stone – yes, vine. It had to be.

Shaking her head again, smiling in the dark despite the oppressive atmosphere, Krystal took another slow step forwards, feeling the vines. Another, third, fourth – there were more of them, growing thicker as she traveled down the tunnel –


She paused, ears perking up – holding her breath, trying to will her heartbeat to quiet down. Had she just-

come closer

Yes! There it was. A voice – the faintest she'd ever heard, on the very edges of her hearing – little more than a breath down the length of the tunnel.

"Hello?" she called into the darkness, picking up the pace – feeling her way down the chasm, deeper and deeper.. "Is there someone there?"


She wasn't just imagining that! There really was someone down there – shaking her head, Krystal tried to open her senses, reach out with her talents, feel for their location – close, so close, but where..?

"Do you need help?" Keep them talking, she thought, get a fix – maybe whoever it was would know a way out of this hellhole. Out of – where was she..?

Free me

It was definitely getting stronger now, she realized – just like the vines, now almost as thick as her wrist, covering the walls in a thick, slick carpet covering the stone.. rolling under her paws, forcing her to pick her way across them – if she tripped and broke her leg here, she'd be done for.. Was the voice someone like that? Hurt, trapped, lost? Maybe she could pull them out of her, back outside, outside where there was light and she could figure out a way to set up a signal-

Her hand hit a round, fat bulge in one of the vines, and under her hand – it shifted. Rubbery material twisted under her hand – instinctive disgust surging through her, Krystal backed away, cradling her hand-

And looked into a wetly glistening, milky eye on the wall. A fat, bulging, misshapen globe, the interior glowing with a dim, nauseating light, like phosphorescent mold on a rotting log – an eye that looked right back at her, unease flooding her senses-

Finally, crooned the voice. The last.. my little morsel..

She didn't hear it, she realized, too late – didn't hear it, but had the words slip right into her mind without ringing up the ears first. The realization – it left behind a nauseating sense of being cheated, used, violated – a sense that grew as the wall writhed.

They weren't vines, she realized, feeling a sick sensation in the pit of her stomach. They were – she didn't have a word for them, a twisting, writhing, wormlike mass, bulging with fat cancerous lumps, some opening into more and more of those twisted eyes – some throbbing and squirming like a snake digesting its prey-

Finally, instinct kicked in and she ran – spun around, dashing back into the tunnel where he'd come from. All around her, the walls were alive – like the stone itself was alive around her, a twisted, disgusting, blasphemous life – she could feel it around her, malice and hunger and an alien, ancient, malevolent sentience..

Free! Free from the chains of the ages

Soon, now, we shall feed

Disregard the divine sentence

That voice, that presence! It was the worst – setting her stomach to roiling with bile, a near-physical sense of disgust – making her want to just stop and try and vomit it out of her, feeling the taint of it smothering her mind – but she couldn't stop here, couldn't stop now, she had to get away from the thing whispering in the dark-

Run, little morsel, run

Fear makes the blood taste so sweet

The walls were closing in on her – no, not closing in, coming alive, the.. things twisting and shifting, groping and feeling blindly – whipping through the air, making her dodge and writhe and push her way past – was she in a cave after all? She felt sheer panic rising in herself at the thought – was it a cave, or was she in the bowels of some thing from her darkest nightmares? Crawling inside it like a bacteria through its veins- she could see light, the cave mouth was so close -

Yessssss! The voice bubbled with glee – a heartbeat before she felt it, felt one of the tendrils wrap around her ankle – her startled cry drowned as the air left her lungs, smashed out by her impact on the cavern floor.

Pop your eyes and drink the juice, the thing chattered, its thought-voice oily, disgusting – loathsome and gloating, full of an obscene hunger.

Suckle on your marrow

Savor your screams

Feast on your soul!

The darkness was squirming behind her, the tendril dragging her in – she was screaming now, she realized, screaming her throat hoarse – kicking, twisting, squirming, clawing at the floor, keep it from dragging into a maw of darkness and insanity-

-somehow she managed to yank her leg free, even if it felt like leaving her paw behind – yank free, hobble towards the light of the cavern entrance, darkness rearing up behind her, a furious, inhuman screech of denial rising in the bowels of the mountain-

No! Mine!

Fleshy darkness lashed out as she dove out of the cave – the thought of the rock underneath flashed through her mind, but it was better than this, anything was better than this – she was falling, but the thing was coming after her, pouring itself out of the crack in the mountainside like blood and pus from a filthy wound-

I will rend your flesh, little Templar-


Thunder roared, a deep concussive explosion, like a nova bomb going off next to her – blue-white lightning smote the mountainside like the fist of a vengeful god, smashing stone apart, blasting darkness into dripping chunks – and the wind was screaming against her, tugging on her fur, and suddenly she wasn't falling but flying -

Who dares?!

Nightmarish blackness rose, writhing and twisting, a galaxy of blindly staring eyes, madness given unholy life – reaching for her as the wind pulled her away from it-

Mine, the storm snarled fiercely around her, wrath and denial and mine-to-guard thrumming in the alien patterns around her– power building around her, within the roiling storm, making her twitch and shiver, feeling her fur puff up and try to stand on its end.. and then thunder slashed down at the thing again, claw-like arcs of heavens' wrath cutting and burning obscene flesh – making it reel back with a scream before reaching out – the storm was cradling her, pushing her away, but the darkness was so much deeper, heavier, more vile, clawing back, inhuman rage flooding the clouds around her, making her fur itch and try and stand up on its own - Desperately, Krystal reached out with her senses, trying to feel for a safe place, feeling her own will drowning in the battle-

And ran into a familiar, comforting warmth and safety and affection, so inviting, so close. She didn't need a second invitation – the storm fading behind her as she closed herself out of the terror, dove into that well of warm emotions, wrapped them around herself like a comforting blanket..

In the waking world, a dozing Krystal stopped shivering and shaking, a soft little coo slipping from her muzzle as she cuddled a little closer against Fox's side in her seat – the male smiling softly down at her, one arm comfortingly wrapped around her shoulders.

She must've fallen asleep – for the next thing Katt was aware of was Skye under her, tense as a towcable. Every muscle stood in stark relief under his fur, a soft, deep rumble vibrating against her back, those golden eyes bright but unfocused – no, not unfocused, focused on something outside their little box of steel, the tips of sharp teeth just barely showing against dark lips. Blearily, she checked her chrono, realizing hours had passed – and then she felt it, too. The crate around them shifted, vibrations traveling through the metal – followed by a heavy thump that rattled her bones.

"Ssshhhh.." Hardly more than a breath, laying a calming hand on Skye's shoulder as Katt did her best to crawl out of his lap – her other hand reaching for her blaster holster, wincing as pins and needles danced along stiffened muscles..

Another loud clunk, shaking their glorified tin can – muffled banging – and then a hisssss of pressurized air, light pouring into their hidey-hole as the lid opened -

And Skye burst out of the crate like the devil's own jack-in-the-box, a bone-chilling snarl on his lips. A loud, startled swear rang out – breaking into a muffled, pained, heavy grunt and a wet, meaty smack.

Katt clambered out of the box after him, feeling slightly miffed about being upstaged. They were in a storage bay of some sort, rows and stacks of supply racks and heavy crates of all shapes and sizes littering the area. The first thing she saw was a big, burly bulldog, pinned to the wall by her blue-furred friend – a dazed look of surprise on the other male's face, Skye's muzzle almost in his face - his snarl baring more teeth than Katt had really thought physically possible. The second-

"Oh no you don't!"

Katt's hand reached down, one smooth motion drawing her blaster, thumbing the safety and fire selector, aiming – a rippling 'crack!' ringing out. Off to the side, a brown-scaled lizard type crumpled as the shimmering stun bolt struck his spine with a shrrrack! – a few steps away from the big red alarm button on the wall.

Skye looked up, ears twitching at the gunshot – and the bulldog took his chance to shove at the blue male. Off-balance, the fox grunted, stumbling back – the two were about as tall, but the dog was built like a tank, big and burly and with a nasty grin on his muzzle as he drew a wicked-looking knife.

Katt spun, trying to draw a bead – the two were too close, Skye circling around his opponent, the dog moving in – she couldn't get a clear shot-

The bulldog dashed in, growling, the blade a gleaming flash as he stabbed – Skye rolled to the side, reaching a hand out, groping for a weapon – and the next swing glanced away with a dull thunk!. The fox was holding a long length of inch-thick metal pipe in his hands, grabbed from a nearby supply rack. Muscles shifted, the fox testing the heft of it..


The pipe was a dull blur in the air, a quick twirling series of blows – warding off the knife, a quick flourish smashing the other end of the staff into his opponent's knee. Yelping, the dog stumbled – the first end came back, cracking over his wrist. The knife fell from nerveless fingers – and before it hit the floor, the last two blows landed – the way the pipe rose to bury itself in the canine's groin made Katt wince in sympathy for bits she didn't have, the bulldog falling forwards with a howl of pain – a howl that cut short before it really begun, Skye's makeshift staff swinging around one last time to deal a heavy blow to the back of his head.

Katt boggled as the bulldog fell to the floor – Skye'd moved so fast, her eyes had hardly kept up with him!

"How did you-" She caught herself, shaking her head. Outworlder, semi-medieval – he probably had to wrestle bears for his dinner where he came from, or something. Something about the way he handled that pipe seemed very familiar, though..

"Might want to tone it down," she admonished, rolling her eyes a little – hips swaying as she stepped up, kneeling beside the bulldog – quick, brisk motions checking his pulse. Alive, mostly unharmed, but out cold – and he'd be waking up feeling it, too. She brought her blaster up, anyhow, and smacked him with a stun bolt for good measure. "We don't want to kill anyone, not if we've got a choice. Find me a rope or cable or something – we'll tie these creeps up, then move on."

Skye rolled his eyes at her commands, but obeyed – reaching behind himself, a click ringing out as the pipe was magnetically locked onto the utility harness she'd gotten him earlier. Katt, meanwhile, focused on emptying the bulldog's pockets, hunting for access cards or PDA files with keycodes on them – and then paused, wincing at an object she found jammed into the belt of his overalls.

"What is that?" A roll of jumper cables smacked to the deck beside her, making her jump. She looked up to see Skye peering down at her, and what she held in her paws.

'That' was an object that much resembled a standard blaster – but instead of a laser focusing lense or plasma aperture, the business end of it ended into a two-tined structure with no recognizable discharge ports, sort of like a weaponized tuning fork.

"Something that tells me we're in the right place," she muttered. "It's a neural lash. Non-lethally attacks your nervous system with an electrical pulse..

A single dark eyebrow rose and Katt caught herself. Right, simple words. Shaking her head, she shifted to the side, gesturing for Skye to tie up the unconscious men.

"It uses lightning to stun you, like a stunner or the stun bolt for a plasma blaster. More reliable than a stunner, less energy-intensive than a stun bolt." she explained. "Thing is, a stun bolt knocks you unconscious. This thing.. it paralyzes you. With pain. So much pain you can't move, can't think, can't breathe – it doesn't kill you, but it'll make you wish it did. A bad hit, or getting hit too many times, can cause neural damage, too – permanent loss of feeling, shaky limbs, your fingers or senses not working right, things like that."

At this point, Skye was giving the gun a look he might've given a venomous spider. Katt honestly couldn't blame him – sometimes, science came up with vile things.

"It's illegal, of course," Katt murmured, yanking the power cell out of the gun, careful to not leave fingerprints on the weapon – the cell itself was standard-sized and would fit her own blaster nicely in a pinch. "Failed design - the people who developed it didn't want to hurt anyone, just create something you could reliably use to disable attackers without damage. Somehow, the blueprints ended up on the black market, and now.. Slavers've been known to use them to control their 'merchandise' – it keeps their prisoners in line, but won't kill them. Loss of profit and all that," she spat.

"And you still want me to go easy on these people?" Skye rumbled – bending down to pick the lizard up on his shoulder like a sack of potatoes – thick muscles rippling as the fox paused to yank out their supply kit from their crate, then bent down to stuff the tied-up thug in its place.

"Tempting as the thought is," Katt retorted dryly, straightening back up with a stretch, "They'll be more use if they're in a state to be questioned later. Come on, I'm gonna see if I can't hack a terminal or something and find the blueprints for this place.. oh, and hey, handsome!"

The male turned around – only to have the spare blaster Katt threw at him bounce off his chest with a grunt, blue-furred hands coming up to catch the thing.

"Next time," Katt teased, "Don't forget your gun in the box."

"I still can't believe you fell asleep in the shuttle," Fox chuckled softly, shaking his head – a playful gleam in his eyes as he gently ribbed at the vixen walking the gangplank beside him. Around them, the air was thick with the scent of hot metal, machine oil and ozone – the smell of docking hangars everywhere. "I mean, sure, they made us wait for the extra security scans, but.. Did you at least have a good nap? Those seats aren't exactly comfortable."

"Not really," Krystal groaned, delicate muzzle scrunching up as she reached behind herself – back arching in a way that made Fox pause in pure appreciation for a moment. That classy dress of hers did a respectable job of emphasizing the vixen's graceful motions – very much modest, but she still managed to draw his eye.

"Doesn't feel like I got any slept at all," the blue-furred vixen admitted – a faint 'pop!' from her back making Fox wince in sympathy. "I had another dream.."

"Again?" Fox felt his ears perking up, giving her a sharp look. "Another of your visions?"

"I don't think so. Just a bad dream," Krystal smiled, blue-green eyes warm at him. "It's not like my every dream has to have some hidden meaning, Fox. Most of the time they're just that, dreams.. but thank you for caring."

A pleasant warmth filling his chest, Fox returned the smile, guiding her a couple more steps down the gangplank, when a sudden clattering noise made his ears perk up – Fox instinctively glancing over to the docking point beside their shuttle and the ship parked there – and freezing at the sight.

Precious few people flew custom-made Phoenix Foundation fighters - sleek, deadly - perhaps a little more sophisticated, more prone to wear and minor malfunctions than the more rugged Arwing (let alone the patch-it-up-with-curses-and-boot-leather-to-get-back-to-the-dock Wolfen), but more than making up for it in sheer agility and speed of maneuver. It took a skilled pilot and an equally skilled mechanic to keep such a vessel in top condition, and Fox knew one when he saw one. The deadly-sleek red-and-white craft sitting in the next dock over was probably in better shape than if she'd just rolled off the assembly line.

More to the point, precious few people had that combination of technical skill and raw ability to both maintain and handle the fighter. Even fewer people that met those qualifications managed to fill out the lower half of their flight suit quite that well when kneeled on all fours on the flat pane of the fighter's wing, rummaging through the cargo pod, lush sandy-furred tail flicking thoughtfully behind her. Fewer still had to cut openings to the sides of their flight helmet to fit expressive, expansive fennec ears through.

Fox stifled a little groan, glancing between a still blissfully-ignorant Fara Phoenix and Krystal - the blue vixen had stopped beside him, ears swiveling uncertainly at his reactions. Clearly, she was picking up on his emotions.

This.. could get awkward.

Krystal felt her ears twitching as Fox suddenly stopped beside her – a sudden shock of surprise radiating from the todd better at waking her up than any cup of coffee ever could. Surprise, confusion, recognition – embarrassment? Eyes snapping to the male, Krystal looked up, then followed his eyes to the side.. to see a red-clad vixen stretching her back on the wing of a similarly coloured fighter.

"Fara," Fox murmured beside her, tail flicking.

Krystal blinked, opening hr muzzle – and that was when the other vixen straightened out, turning her head – blue eyes narrowing as she spotted the two of them.

"Well now," she murmured, turning around – hopping down from the fighter's wing with a clack of subtle heels. "There's a face I haven't seen in ages. Aside from the news."

She was short, Krystal realized – nearly a foot shorter than Fox, more 'compactly built' than 'petite' – clad in a red-and-silver, body-fitting flight-suit that brought out the rounded curves of feminine hips. What she lacked in height, she made up in ears – the large, sandy-furred, expressive folds giving her almost a foot more of height when fully perked, a few charms and hoops chiming as they dangled from their lower edges. Her motions had that subtle, confident grace Krystal had long-since learned to connect with fighter pilots – shapely, femininely muscled arms reaching up, revealing a mane of shoulder-length, sandy-blonde hair as she pulled her helmet off, tucking it under her arm.

"Yeah. It's been a while, Fara," Fox murmured, ears folded back in that odd angle – that awkward mix of embarrassment swirling against Krystal's senses. "Uh.. How have you been?"

"Fine, fine," the large-eared vixen – fennec, wasn't the breed called? Krystal wasn't quite sure – murmured, half-dismissively – blue eyes shifting from Fox to her, sweeping her up and down, coupled with a jangling ear-twitch. "Working my tail off, but you know how that goes."

Suddenly, Krystal found herself very much conscious of the dress she'd chosen for the diplomatic talks - certainly, it wasn't what she normally went for, more of a moment's impulse.. but she'd thought it'd fit the occasion. (Certainly, the look on Fox's face when he'd first seen her in it had been very much worth it). Now, though, well-groomed and dressed in pearl-silk and pseudo-golden armour, she felt distinctly.. out of place, facing this plucky, confident fox in her tough flight suit and oil stains on her boots.

"So, Fox," Fara drawled, padding up to them, "Aren't you going to introduce me to your.. friend?"

"Right!" Fox shook his head, clearly willing himself to some sort of focus. "Krystal, this is Fara – Fara Phoenix. Fara, this is Krystal."

"Krystal?" One of those expressive ears rose with the fennec vixen's eyebrow, the sandy-furred woman pausing to pull off her flight suit glove before reaching her paw Krystal's way. "Just Krystal?"

"Just Krystal, I'm afraid," Krystal murmured back, twitching her tail as she eyed that hand, half-hoping Fara'd kept her glove on – she didn't want to be rude, but.. "Krystal of Cerinia, if you want to be formal. I'd rather not, if you won't mind."

Oh well. She'd probably end up doing this at some point, anyhow. Taking a deep breath, Krystal steeled herself, reaching out her paw and shaking Fara's-

Fatigue, from a day's hard work. Jealousy. Irritation, at both this newcomer and herself for being jealous – Memories.

A quiet street. Playing with a young green-eyed todd, mimicking engine noises and laser blasts while 'flying' what looked like miniature early Arwing prototypes. An older fennec male, scolding the both of them with a gentle smile. Flash! Impressions of much time spent – hanging out, going to school, all beside a confident, growing young green-eyed fox – a familiar fox.. Flash! Curled up beside him, now broken, comforting him, his agony sharp and raw even without the benefit of Krystal's extra senses – a faint whisper in his throat, 'Mother' – Flash! Eager but unsure, hot murmurs in her ear – faint musk in her nose and warm lips –

Flushing, Krystal pulled away, mentally and physically – breaking the link, cutting off the stream of half-formed images. Eyes snapping shut, she couldn't help the soft grunt that slipped from her muzzle, separating memories and sensations that were hers from ones that weren't, pushing the latter to the side..

"Hey, are you alright?" Surprise and concern in the other vixen's voice – an emotion she could feel mirrored from Fox's direction, Krystal happily taking strength from a familiar touch as the todd moved to support her. "Is there something-"

"No, I'm alright," Krystal assured, opening her eyes, shaking her head – feeling her ears twitch, sternly trying to tell her senses that no, they just hadn't shrunk about six sizes. "I'm sorry," she murmured, feeling embarrassed – not least from the unwilling breach of privacy. Well now, she thought dryly, That explains things. For a moment, she could see herself from Fara's point of view – this tall, exotic, oddly colored vixen, pretty and dolled-up, Fox hovering protectively beside her, all graceful and elegant and everything the fennec herself was not, her scent drifting in the air - knowing that if things had gone differently, it might've been her -"I just.. I just don't like to touch people I don't know."

"Oh!" Fox's ears twitched, Krystal feeling his senses clicking as things fell in place. "Fara, Krystal's a.. I know this is going to sound weird, but.. she's a telepath. The closer she is to people, the more strongly she picks up on things – especially if she touches someone-"

"Telepath?" Surprise, disbelief – mortification, a jangle of hoops as big expressive ears popped up, then folded back, blue eyes surprised and curious. "So.." My, those ears went red when she began to blush. "So, uh, when you shook my hand, you.. got..?"

"I saw nothing either of you need to be ashamed of," Krystal assured her, blushing just as hard, idly crossing her arms under her chest. "'Empath' is really closer – normally I only get emotions, but it's stronger when I touch someone.. and you were, ah, a little upset and thinking of Fox, and.."

"Oh, stars." Fara closed her eyes, ears jangling again as they folded shifted - lifting her paw to rub over her eyes. "This was not what I signed up f-"


A sandy-furred figure appeared from between the docking points, smiling as he padded towards them – tall, for a fennec, anyhow, dressed in a neat if a little scuffed suit under a lab coat of some sort, the kind with reinforced pads on his knees and elbows, mane pulled into a short ponytail. A familiar figure, in fact – even if Krystal hadn't met him before, she recognized the face from the surge of Fara's memories she'd just been subjected to – though the male walking up to them had more venerable silver-gray sprinkled over his muzzle and mane than those memories had..

"There you are," he smiled. "I had an idea for the secondary drive plasma distributor – Oh!" Blue eyes had found the two of them, flicking over Fox. "I know you, don't I?"

"You do," Fox smiled, stepping up and reaching out to shake the elder male's hand. "It's Fox – Fox McCloud. It's been a while, Mr. Phoenix, sir."

"Fox?" Blue eyes widened – followed, moments later, by the fennec's smile. "My stars, I hardly recognized you. Look at you! I think the last time we really spoke was me telling you to bring my Fara back before curfew, mmn? Where does the time go?"

Fox chuckled softly, shaking his head – behind the fennec's back, Fara gave a roll of her eyes. Despite the gesture, Krystal could feel the affection between the two of them – it felt.. pleasant, on her senses. Like standing in front of the fireplace after a long day out in the cold – she found herself smiling softly at the sensation.

"And you.." Blue eyes shifted over to Krystal – the vixen instinctively straightening up a little. The elder todd had a little warm gleam in his eyes as they swept her up and down once, before focusing on her face. "I might be getting on with the years, but I'd like to think I'd recognize a young lady like you if I'd met you before." A little playful wink, a paw extended her way. "I don't think we've been introduced. Tauv Phoenix.. Fara's father. Who might you be?"

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Phoenix," Krystal smiled, tail flicking gently – a little part of her resigned to having a headache by the end of the day as she reached her paw back. Beside them, Fara's ears popped up, eyes widening - "My name is Krystal."

Their hands met, Krystal mentally bracing herself.

Tauv was.. Calm. Warm. The surge of unpleasant motion she' gotten from Fara was absent – instead, what she got was warm curiosity, a little bit of appreciation (A little part of Krystal blushed, realizing a bit of instinct had just classified her as 'attractive, but way out of my age range') and.. numbers. The todd's mind was like a calculator – even when focused on something else, equations and graphs and bits of design whirled through the background, clicking together, forming into something more than the sum of its parts, the most complex jigsaw puzzle she could image, factors of speed and lift and power and thrust working in harmony - and – memories.

Watching two fox cubs, one fennec and one red fox, at play while working on a design with the young todd's father. Flash! An adorable, big-eyed fennec kit, sitting in his lap while he pointed out things on the blueprint, comparing them to the parts of the half-disassembled fighter sitting in the hangar before them. Pausing to teach her how to take a spare component apart, then put it back together. Flash! The same kit, now a little older, so proud of herself, presenting him with a freshly-painted miniature fighter – modified to match the newest blueprint. Flash! "One day, Daddy, you'll build the best ship in the galaxy.. and I'll be testing it for you.."

Gently, Krystal willed the link shut, squeezing his hand – he had a strong grip, the deft hands of a man who worked with them for a living – before pulling away. And for a moment – Fara might've been jealous of her because of Fox, but for just a little bit.. Krystal envied Fara for having a father like Tauv.

"Pleasure to meet you, indeed, Mr. Phoenix," Krystal smiled, mentally focusing to ignore the disorientation from the second mental contact in almost as many minutes. "Will you be taking part in the talks, as well?"

"Oh, yes!" Tauv's eyes brightened, ears shifting – she could almost feel his brain kicking into high gear from where she was standing. "General Pepper specifically asked for a group from Phoenix Corporation – how could I refuse? Getting a first-hand look at Xechek technology, their designs – have you seen their ships?"

"Here we go again," Fara murmured, rolling her eyes a second time. "I told Father that we could do without him, but you know him – I keep having to physically pull him out of the guts of whatever prototypes the R&D boys and girls happen to be working on at the time, so.."

"You're in the peace talks, too?" Fox blinked, ears popping up. "How does that work out? No offense, Fara."

"Beats me, and none taken." The fennec shrugged, crossing flightsuit-clad arms over her chest. "Suppose it's the worker and warrior caste thing Pepper mentioned. You're mercenaries, so that fits the 'warrior' part.. and Dad's the biggest brain in the cluster, when it comes to ship design at least.."

"The Xechek 'worker' caste aren't just simple laborers," Krystal put in with a smile, tail flicking softly. "They're their scientists, engineers and artists, as well – their brightest minds. If they wanted a representative, it'd make sense for the General to call for you, Mr. Phoenix."

"My. An educated young lady, as well?" Tauv's ears popped up, an impressed look in his eyes – she could feel his pleasure at being complimented, too. "Just where did Fox find you?"

Krystal chuckled warmly, wagging her tail, opening her muzzle-

"Mr. Phoenix!"

A new voice – a female voice, and the clack-clack-clack of boot-heels. A new face popped up from the direction the fennec male had come from – a female spaniel dressed in a flight suit just like Fara's, a little bit of roundness to her limbs not hindering her motions, a little red bow over the base of one ear gleaming among soft-looking, strawberry-blonde fur.

"A call for you in your quarters, Mr. Phoenix – wait, Fox?"

"Hello, Fay," Fox called back, a dry smile on his muzzle. "It's like the class reunion all over again, isn't it? Katt and Miyu aren't going to pop up from the woodworks too, are they?"

"Miu-Miu's actually hip-deep up her fighter right about now," Fay deadpanned, cocking a widely curved hip, thumb rising to point over her shoulder towards the other end of the hangar. "Her port stabilizer gave out, again," she clarified at the matched querying look she got from both Phoenixes. "Something about losing sync with her G-diffuser if she pushes it past eighty percent..?"

"I'll have to take a look, myself," Tauv murmured, ears shifting. "In the meanwhile, tell her to go easy on the poor thing. I pay you to test them, yes, but there -is- such a thing as too much of a good thing.."

"Me, Fay and Miyu work as test pilots for Phoenix Foundation designs, these days," Fara explained. "Don't have a fancy name yet, but I suppose you could call us a team. Katt's sort of an honorary member, for the record – she pitches in when her business is quiet."

"She's been too quiet for a while now, if you ask me," Fay murmured, shaking her head. "Not like her to be low profile for so long.. I'm kinda worried. Not that it matters now!" Long, floppy spaniel ears shifted among her hair. "Like I said, Mr. Phoenix, there's a call for you – if you'll follow me..?"

"I'd best get along, too," Fara murmured, shaking her head, turning to follow the two – then pausing, glancing over her shoulder at the Fox and Krystal.

"Fox.. it was nice to see you again. And.. Krystal.. it was good to meet you, too. We'll catch up later, alright?"

"I'll be looking forwards to it," Krystal smiled back – watching with Fox as the three of them disappeared out of sight, before finally turning to him.

"So, uhh.." Fox's ears were folding back, a little embarrassed flush in them – she didn't need to be an empath to know what he was thinking, now. "I never did tell you about Fara, did I..?"

"No. No, you didn't," Krystal sweetly replied. "But I'm sure we'll have all the time to- reminisce, later.."

Oh, of course she wasn't angry with him. Not really.

It was amusing to see Fox twitch, though!