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January 5th, Saturday, 2013
South America, the gateway to the Lost World

Zandar, Jungle Lord of the Lost World, had recently sent word to the Freedom league that he wished for greater understanding between his domain and theirs. He had offered a guided tour for several young people from Earth-Prime through the reaches of his kingdom, something that had led to a scramble among the Claremont Academy student body, all of whom wanted to be the one that got to see the fabled and secret land where prehistoric beasts lived beside humans!

At last, Headmaster Summers had selected four teenagers to go. Blodeuwedd, El Heraldo, Myrmidon and Tsunami were to explore the strange Lost World and bring back a written report on what they had learned and discovered about the place and its people. No less than twenty pages were allowed for the final product, as Prof. Skyler had declared with no little smugness. But that seemed far away as the four teen heroes stood on the rocky and wooded plateau far above the jungle that glistened below in the sun, the teleportation quick and precise.

All they had to do now was wait for their guide to show up. The South American sun beat down on them with the full weight of summer, and at the edge of sight and hearing all of them could tell animals were creeping just out of sight...

Edited by Arichamus
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Giang Trang stood slightly off to one side from the others, looking out over the jungle below them. While she was not immune to the heat bearing down on them, as she was to cold temperatures, she was also accustomed to such conditions. Until a few months ago, she had lived her entire life in a small village in the northern part of Vietnam.

The Asian teen was dressed in a black cami top, over which she wore a dark khaki long-sleeved shirt, which was currently unbuttoned with the sleeves rolled up to just below her elbows. A pair of olive cargo pants and brand new hiking boots completed her outfit. On her back she had a backpack filled with the gear that had been provided for the trip.

Unlike far too many American teenagers, Giang stood with perfect posture. Not in a ridged manner, but with a certain poise and grace. As calm and serene as she appeared on the outside, she was still trying to work though the rather chaotic events of the last few days, weeks and months. It had literally been only a few days since Raven had taken her to meet with Headmaster Summers for Giang to begin at Claremont Academy, after having spent about a week being debriefed by Raven and other members of the Freedom League after the older superheroine had found the teen on the streets of Singapore.

Giang's meeting with Headmaster Summers had gone a bit differently than she had expected. The teen had fully expected to face suspicion and uncertainty based upon her family and their background, similar to what she had experienced with Raven. While Headmaster Summers had certainly been somewhat guarded, he had also been friendly and courteous. But even more surprising, was that during the meeting he had discussed with Giang concerns he had regarding an infiltration into Freedom City by the Terminus, and gone so far as to hint that he might soon need the assistance of someone he knew to be trustworthy. Then, almost explicably, she had been sent on this trip along with three other students. In the back of her mind, Giang wondered if there was some reason the Headmaster wanted to keep her from the Claremont campus for a little while longer.

As if these recent events were not enough, Giang was still struggling some with her decision to leave the home of her "true" father, Kong Zi and turn her back on his plans to use her and her four half-siblings to help establish her family's dominance over the criminal underworld in the Eastern Hemisphere. While she knew that she had made the correct, moral choice, it still butted up against what she had been taught about loyalty and obedience to one's family, and respecting one's elders.

If nothing else, this trip would serve to help put some "distance" between the Asian teen and these recent events. Perhaps she would be able to gain some better perspective on things before the group was due to return to Claremont. And of course, there was the report that would be due as well. Turning from the jungle below, the teen looked over to regard her three companions.

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Johns blue eyes gazed out from behind his ubiquitous sunglasses as he kept an eye on the jungle while periodically checking on the other Claremonters. While technically not the oldest here, he was the senior student and he took the responsibility seriously especially since there was a student he was unfamiliar with present. The clone hero was unsurprisingly well prepared for the excursion, his clothing more along the lines of a game warden or great white hunter of old. Dark khaki cargo pants disappeared into combat boots, while a similarly colored hunting vest lay unbuckled over a light brown polo shirt. Completing the ensemble was a dark brown bush hat and fingerless shooting gloves with his only supplies packed in a light rucksack at his feet.

He had his own motivations for applying to this trip, namely wanting to improve his SERE skills and to hopefully pick up some tricks of the trade from a master survivalist. He had found normal camping quite boring, and the fact of potentially deadly wildlife only made John more excited about going. This of course was not lost on his friend Morgan and the other Irregular had used the excuse to marathon all of the Jurassic Park movies before John left on the trip. To the others currently nearby, John still had the professional and watchful demeanor he was well known for but here their serious classmate almost looked...relaxed.

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The muscular form of Subito lay sprawled on the dry ground a few paces from Giang and right beside Cerys, powerful arms behind his head amid the mess of his curly black hair, his swarthy body nearly glowing as it reflected and absorbed the Sun's rays. He very surprisingly wasn't wearing his usual jeans and t-shirt ensemble. This time he had opted for thick, close-fitting green cargo shorts encircled at the waist by a blue fanny pack, a snug dark brown cotton t-shirt with the helmet of Daedalus emblazoned on it, slim sunglasses he was going to forget for most of the trip, stout hiking boots that were in remarkably good repair and a baseball cap bearing the Heroes' logo. The cap was currently tilted down over his face to shield his sparkling hazel eyes from the Sun, though he made sure as little of himself as possible was so blockaded. A stuffed red backpack lay nearby, crammed with everything the excitable teen could think to bring for a trip to another world, which was a great deal.

The stocky Puerto Rican wasn't so jaded that the fact he was about to see real live dinosaurs didn't send chills through him every moment he waited for their guide, but he wanted to take advantage of the time to soak up as much of the light and heat as he could while they walked in summer climes. Winters in Freedom City were always miserable for him, every cold day reminding him of home and its brightness and warmth. 'This winter was pretty great though' he reminded himself, grinning as he recalled his trip to Wales with Cerys not even a week ago. The Order had turned out to be very different from the impression he'd got during his visit in the fall, and his meeting with the Taid still resonated, partially because of how sheepish he felt at being so utterly tongue-tied before the old man! The rest of that trip had been a delight however, especially the main attraction.

"Hey Cerys!" he exclaimed without warning, tilting the cap back so he could look at Blodeuwedd properly "What do you say we bring back a dino? A little one, 'course!" he added quickly and with a jokingly innocent look up at the young agent "To show were here and stuff, maybe keep it for a pet. I bet we could take care of a dinosaur no problem!" Giving her a warm smile he added much more quietly and with utter seriousness "By the way, you look awesome."

He had been carefully avoiding much in the way of talk with John, as just being around the clone hero brought back very unbidden memories and feelings that he didn't want to focus on at the best of times, and especially not when he was on a trip to a world of magic, wonder and adventure beside the valiant girl whose feeling she wanted to return and get to know. Giang he'd hardly exchanged greetings with and marked her as another of the standoffish Claremonters who played themselves close to the vest. Of course, he was all but eaten up with curiosity all the same, and struggled not to stare and try to puzzle her out. Being close to Cerys helped a lot with that.

Lying back on the ground he kept an ear out for the approach of their guide whoever they were their showing up would mean it was time for the Lost World!

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Blodeuwedd hadn't made much effort in her choices of clothes, after all her costumes breathed naturally and kept her feeling cool. At the moment her costume was taking the form of a light t-shirt, a set of combat and some sensible walking boots. The more important thing was why she was here. Apart from a chance to see sights that few ever had the chance to view, though nothing would compare to the time she had been taken to see one of the Great Dragons of Wales, which was to brush up some more of her survival skills.

“You mean they don’t have pet dinosaurs in America? In Wales we have a whole species of Humanoid dinosaurs living below the mountains.†With her deadpan delivery it was hard to tell if she was kidding or not.

She was actually in quite a buoyant mood enjoying the sights and sounds of the jungle. The only fly in the ointment was the new girl, not that she had anything against her personally. It’s just that she hated being presented with mysteries; to her they were itches that needed scratching which was something frowned upon in a school like Claremont. It just seemed that everybody she had met since joining the school, and no sooner that she solved one mystery another person and another mystery presented themselves.

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"Humanoid dinosaurs? In Wales?" A sudden and very English voice said from a tree right next to John. With a soft rustle of coarse fabric a magnificent man strode into the clearing, with short brown hair and beard, clear, dark eyes, a necklace of massive teeth around his neck, a thin band of metal around his head, a large spear on his back and a loose robe of animal skin. The large teeth on the skin's head gave it a definite quality. "I would have a care who you tell that to young lady. The jungle is filled with beasts like you describe!" he looked gravely at Blodeuwedd for a moment before beaming like the sun, warmly shaking each of their hands in turn with his enormously powerful grip and introducing himself "I am Zandar, Jungle Lord of the Lost World! You must be the chil-ah, teenagers" he corrected himself with a polite lack of expression "that Headmaster Summers sent to learn about my world? Excellent! I look forward to what you learn, and what I can learn from you. Follow me."

With quick steps that landed noiselessly in the underbrush, Zandar led the four teen heroes through the jungle. It was easy going for the most part, though they soon passed through a narrow ravine that had them scrambling over fallen and shattered boulders. After several minutes of weary climbing, they suddenly turned a corner and were struck by a feeling like the world warped and reeled around them! Coming to, the four Claremonters found themselves on a hillside overlooking a forest far vaster than any existing on Earth, stretching from horizon to horizon without a break in the glittering forest. The smell of strange plants was heavy in the air, as were acrid, musty currents and the smell of lizards. From it howls, deep roars and thundering feet resounded, and off in the distance winged creatures wheeled and soared. Like an unfurling mast an apatosaurus' head lifted above the canopy, tearing away a massive chunk of green from one of the nearby trees. "Welcome," the Jungle Lord said with a broad gesture to the land below "To my kingdom. Welcome, children of Earth, to the LOST WORLD! Only one thing remains, and we shall go at once to my capital."

Whipping out the spear from his back he proffered its haft to them, gazing into their eyes steadily "Before we enter my dominion in truth, I must have your solemn promise: you will not take anything you find outside my kingdom for yourselves. Within my jungle I can allow or decline to give you permission, but outside it the theft of the least and most insignificant thing might bring peril and downfall for you. For your safety, I must ask this of you." his tanned and handsome face was lined for a moment with concern, but it vanished like thin mist in the morning. He smiled encouragingly "Besides! I have no fear you will need to stray outside my lands, there are wonders in it that nobody has yet seen, not even the Freedom League or the Atoms." he said with a confidence that defied the Claremonters to doubt him.

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Giang turned to look in the direction of the voice when Lord Zandar spoke up, appearing out of the jungle. As he came towards her to offer a handshake, the Asian teen first placed her palms together in front of her as she gave a slight bow. "It is an honor Lord Zandar. I am Giang Trang." She then shook his offered hand.

When the introductions were finished, the group was quickly on its way, Giang falling into place among her fellow students as they followed their guide. While in relatively good shape, she was not accustomed to climbing. Thankfully it was not a completely vertical climb, and the Asian teen did her best not to slow the rest of the group down too much.

But the effort required for the climb was quickly forgotten as they reached the summit and came out on a hillside overlooking the vast, vast jungle that was the heart of the Lost World. As she looked out over the impressive sight, a slight smile came to the corners of Giang's mouth. Somehow managing to take her eyes off the awe inspiring sight, she took a moment to glance over at the others with her.

Her attention was quickly focused back on Lord Zandar as he extended the haft of his spear towards them, explaining the pledge he required from each of them before they truly entered his realm. The Asian teen's face became serious once again as she did not hesitate in reaching one hand forward to grab the haft the spear. "I swear upon my ancestors that I will abide by your instructions."

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John turned to the man wearing the smilodon helmet, after having heard the tree creak slightly under his weight. He supposed that he should thank Morgan for that little bit of awareness, stepping aside to let the man address the four of them. The Claremonter returned the handshake, while filing away the fact that serpent people or a sub-species thereof lived here that were as dangerous as their kin. As the others made their introductions he grabbed his rucksack and took a rearguard position at the back of the line as the famed Jungle Lord led them into his domain.

The vista that was their introduction to the Lost World was certainly impressive, it was the other senses that appealed to John. There were noises he couldn't identify coming from the dark confines of the jungle, and the air itself almost seemed ancient as the other jungles he had been in were pale imitations of this ancient land. He was brought out of his introspection by Zandars' declaration and proffering of his weapon. An accord then. Taking off his sunglasses, John gripped the haft of the spear and met the gaze of the Jungle Lord. "My word is my bond. I will not dishonor your hospitality."

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Blodeuwedd had barely heard the man arrive behind them and showed no surprise as he spoke.

“Well let’s hope they speak a civilized tongue, like Welsh.†She spoke in her normal dry tone as she shook his hand.

She listened solemnly as Lord Zandar told them the conditions for their stay. She had been provided with a list of artefact’s that were considered lost in this part of the world. But it was understood that she wasn’t’ to actively hunt them, but if she should come across any of them…

“I promise I won’t touch anything belonging to your kingdom.†If it was outside of the kingdom however, that was fair game.

She took a moment, along with the rest of the student’s to drink in the beautiful but dangerous vista of the jungles of the Lost World.

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Subito had jumped to his feet the instant Zandar appeared, feeling foolish for not having heard his approach.The 'chil-teenagers' slip rankled the stocky teen more than a little, but the magnetic and energetic Jungle Lord quickly pushed aside such petty irritations. He shook the man's hand with will, saying "I'm not sure you could learn anything from me, sir, but I'll do what I can!" then hoisted his backpack over his shoulders and followed along.

The long climb had taken a lot of the wind out of Subito's sails, and he was breathing deeply by the time they reached the turn, and entered another world. The sight left him utterly speechless for several long seconds, eyes wide and jaw slack with amazement.

The sudden rearing of the dinosaur above the tree-line got a faint and quiet yet very obvious squeal of glee, hands clasped before him as he gazed in wonderment around at the Lost World!

"This...is amazing..." he breathed, and began "Aw man, we shou-oh!" he looked in surprise at the Jungle Lord. The request made sense, but he still was a little frustrated he thought they were that irresponsible. 'We're not kids, Zandar! Oh? Don't start! I won't have to Alright, we'll abide by this guy's laws. Better'n making the guy mad,a nd might as well keep out of trouble while we're here'

Placing a hand on the spear he smiled boldly at the ruler of the jungle, glowing faintly gold "I vow, and let the Blue Dame be my witness, that I will take nothing that is not from your land." he glanced at the jungle below them, adding cautiously "So...where do we go first? Can we see the preradactals?" he asked gleefully.

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Zandar seemed pleased at their promises, and gladly led them on the way to his capital. The jungle quickly proved to be even more immense than it had appeared on the hill, with trees towering above them and blocking out much of the sunlight in the jungle floor. As it turned out, that wasn't where they were headed, with the Jungle Lord instead taking them through the forest across narrow rope and wood bridges that soared half-way up the mossy and vine-wrapped trees. Climbing up to it was a breeze.

They passed relatively unobserved by the passing fauna, though several times Zandar had them lay very still as a massive carnivore passed like a monstrous and noxious shadow by them, tensing and fixing his eyes on the animal until it was out of sight. After a fairly peaceful journey of around two hours, the band came within sight of a vast clearing, in which stood a massive complex of cunningly-built wooden buildings reaching up and around the trees, some of them hundreds of feet above the ground. From their vantage point, the Claremonters could easily see that it teamed with life, from small animals running through narrow streets to a busy marketplace under the shadow of a house made from dinosaur bones. "My capital!" Zandar proclaimed with a sweeping gesture, and a look of deep pride. A few yards closer to the city, however, and something became very evident: It stopped well before civilization, and had no obvious means of getting down. "Now, let me introduce you to my people. This way!"

And with that, the Jungle Lord took hold of a nearby vine, and expertly swung off the walkway to the ground! He easily flipped off it at the highest point, landing in a tumble on the floor a few yards from the mighty stockade around the city. He beckoned them to follow.

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Once the group had given their various oaths, they were off once again. Giang followed after the Jungle Lord as he lead them down into the vast jungle below. She was slightly surprised when he led the group up into onto rope bridges that carried them high above the jungle floor. But, she realized it made sense for there to be such a means of providing safe passage above the jungle floor and the creatures that roamed it.

During the times when Lord Zandar signaled for them to lie down, Giang did so quickly, lying still as she watched the large carnivores pass beneath through the spaces between the wood slats of the rope bridge. She did her best to remain relaxed, but ready to use her powers if necessary. Thankfully, each time the threats passed and the group was soon able to resume their journey.

When they came within sight of the massive city built in a large clearing in the middle of the jungle, the Asian teen looked on with wonder. The village she had grown up in had been relatively primitive compared to much of the world, but this was something completely different. The incredible scale of the city, and the balance it seemed to have with its surroundings, was truly impressive.

And then, the Lord Zandar instructed them to follow him, before he grabbed a vine and swung out into the clearing towards the massive stockade which surrounded the city. Giang watched his descent and then turned to regard the others for a moment, before stepping forward to take another of the vines nearby.

Gripping tightly, she stepped off the walkway, swinging out into the open space beyond. She felt a slight rush of adrenaline as she went, watching for the right moment to release and drop down towards where the Jungle Lord was waiting. At the proper moment, she let go of the vine, beginning to fall towards the ground below. As she fell, she executed a perfect piked front flip, opening back out in time to land lightly on her feet and ending in a deep back stance, her left leg straight in front of her and her right leg underneath. Her right arm was extended out behind her, her hand open with the palm facing outward, while her left arm was bent across her chest. She held the stance for a brief moment, before standing smoothly back upright and walking over to stand near Lord Zandar.

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If he was asked, John would have stated that felt a little put out that they were using rope bridges instead of bushwhacking their way to their location. When the times the Jungle Lord sensed the predator and ordered them to stand down, the clone hero already had a combat knife in hand and ready to use as he watched the sauropod pass by the group. He was still taking up the rear and letting the others ahead of him, content to keep an eye out for dangers behind the group.

Upon arrival at Zandars' capital, John looked warily at the vines the Jungle Lord had used and decided not to test their tensile strength and merely walked off the bridge. He landed on his feet, his legs easily taking the brunt of the impact as he then walked to remaining distance to where the Jungle Lord and his classmates were.

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Whilst Blodeuwedd was comfortable in the city she had spent most of her life in the countryside. So whilst it wasn’t exactly the Welsh countryside she was quite happy strolling through the jungle environment, carnivorous plants and all. She might not have all the sense of some of the other student’s at the school, but she was confident that she could spot trouble if it arose. Beside she trusted that there guide wouldn’t deliberately lead them into trouble.

When Lord Zander swing down she didn’t miss a beat, joining him by swinging on another of the vines. She couldn’t help of a little flourish of doing a little roll before landing on her feet

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Subito's enthusiasm hadn't dimmed for a moment of the trip. As they traveled high above the forest floor through the green-tinged dark he walked as quietly as he could, listening to the creeping, crawling, soft-stepping things that moved around them, shivering with excitement at what those sounds meant: a whole new world to explore!

He kept close to Blodeuwedd as they moved, and had to keep down excited whispers as some giant creature stalked past them, nearly invisible save for their reflecting scales catching the light. As they came into view of Zandar's capital he let out a long, slow whistle, staring in awe at something that wouldn't have been out of place in one of the old Aurora pulps come to life.

Smiling cheerfully at Zandar's order from them to follow he began "Will do sir! Where's the release..." he stared as the Jungle Lord swung down effortlessly to the ground, hurtling dozens of feet without harm. Blinking a little he turned to Cerys with a look of concern "Hey, uh, you know-" he realized that the lithe Welsh girl was already in action, and watched in astonishment as his schoolmates all elegantly and gracefully descended. he looked around at the suddenly lonely walkway "Okay then, let's not screw up" he muttered.

Grabbing one of the remaining vines, he took a step back and then launched himself off the platform, the wind rushing past him and the trees speeding by with terrifying speed! His muscles strained for a moment as he soared towards the others with his hair flailing in the wind, and then he let go. He tumbled weightlessly for a few moments before he felt himself spinning towards the ground, timed and tensed himself, and when he heard more than felt the incoming grass, he spun. Flipping and twirling, he bounced along the ground and came to a dusty, shaking, exhilarated stop before the others.

Taking a second to recover he gave Cerys a quick, gentle hug, then turned his shining eyes to the magnificent Zandar "That was amaaaaziiiiing...." he all but whispered. Straightening up, Subito checked the straps on his backpack "Lead on, your majesty! We look forward to seeing your realm, if this is what it's like to live here!" he said with a grin.

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The Jungle Lord clapped his hands briefly at the acrobatic display from the Claremonters. Stepping neatly aside from the incoming Subito, he said to them "Excellent! I am glad to be hosting such skilled youths as you. Headmaster Summers has made an excellent choice with you four. Now, follow me!" he said eagerly as he walked with long and rapid strides towards the strong wall that ringed his capital.

Coming within shouting distance of the walls, Zandar introduced himself with a shout that seemed to shake the ground "MY SUBJECTS! I RETURN WITH GUESTS!" waiting for the echoes to die down and for a round face to appear on the wall he added with a sweeping gesture to to the gate that looked almost totally immovable "OPEN THE WALL!"

With a shudder, the gate creaked slowly open...until it suddenly slammed down with a thud that echoed again through the trees. It crossed a broad trench that was filled with spikes honed until they gleamed dully in the light that reached them. Many of their points were reddened with blood.

The gate was wide enough that Zandar and the teen heroes could walk three abreast, and on the other end through a narrow passage soon appeared a great crowd of people dressed in finery only a little less grand than their Jungle Lord. They thronged around the majestic Zandar and their visitors, embracing them and welcoming them in a language only Subito totally understood, though all of them got the meaning of cheery smiles and warm hugs! The meeting party turned into a procession leading to the hall Zandar lived in, the house of dinosaur bones that they had seen before. On its steps, the mighty man introduced the Claremonters to his subjects, before taking them aside after most of the throng had departed back to their lives. "Go where you will, the welcoming feast will begin this evening. You have my leave to go where you wish in the town. If you wish for a translator, I have many able subjects well-versed in English ready to accompany you." He smiled "May you make memories here. I shall see you this evening." with a majestic nod, Zandar walked inside the house with a clack of its macabre door, from within a female voice raised in surprise and relief sounded, followed soon after by a child's high-pitched excitement.

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John managed to extract himself from the crowd of people before he committed a diplomatic faux pas by accidentally dislocating the shoulder of the next person to try and hug him. Thankfully, one of the nearby younger tribeswoman, Naija, was a translator and he managed to negotiate his well wishers down to one-on-one forearm handshakes. Afterwords John had asked if she would mind being his translator while he would be here, seeing as it would be much easier than having to bother everyone whenever he had a question or the like by searching for a translator. She had accepted readily, with the first thing on his agenda was to get a lay of the land which meant a guided tour around the city and its defenses.

Later, John had met with the hunters of the camp, who he had asked to go along with one of their hunts. Naija and the hunters had looked at him like he was mad, stating that they would not want him to get injured. His response was an impromptu demonstration of his technique with their stone-age weapons, from their obsidian knives to their sinew-strung bows. Half-way through he had managed to attract another crowd, who had clapped and cheered. Johns' demonstration having succeeded in his goal of assuring the hunters he could take care of himself, he had been given one of their bows and a quiver of arrows and had spent most of the afternoon quietly stalking prey in the jungle. He had ignored the easy game, tracking down and killing what the locals called a 'long-claw', after which John was beginning to regret his decision as he had to haul his kill all the way back to the town. All in all it was a relaxing day for the teen and to be honest he was looking forward to the feast.

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When Lord Zander basically told the teenagers they had a free run of the area Blodeuwedd eyes lit up. It was a chance to try something she’d always wanted to try. But first she had to convince Subito why it wasn’t for him. She knew he wanted to do everything together with her right now, but something’s a girl had to do on her own.

“There’s a challenge, sort of game really. We used to do it at the Order as part of our stealth training. It’s a form of Counting Coup, we had to try and sneak up on a herd of skittery animal Cow or Horses normally. The aim was to get as close to the animals as you could without startling them. The further within the herd you got, the better the bragging rights. And if you managed to touch one well…â€

She didn’t say it, but her tone suggested she’d managed such a feat.

“Well I want to try and do it with some of the big herding dinosaurs. I know it’s a bit weird, but it might be my only chance to try something like this. And you’re not the most subtle of people…†she gave one of her rare smiles “I promise not to pick on anything dangerous. Why don’t you show the new girl around, I’ll try not to get too jealous.â€

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The parade through the city had left Subito almost breathless with glee, and he'd quickly gotten into the spirit of exchanging powerful hugs, shouting a half-understood greeting and then passing on. Arriving in high spirits at the steps of Zandar's hall, he bowed politely to the crowd as he was introduced, turning full of excitement to the Jungle Lord as he finished his announcement. He could go anywhere until it was supper-time, and Subito knew just where he and Cerys could go. He had spotted a tower on the other side of the city, with a jungle of roofs between it and them. "We thank you for your welcome, Zandar!" he told the towering man, grinning from ear to ear as the door shut, and whirling around to Blodeuwedd, just about to speak when she said

“There’s a challenge, sort of game really. We used to do it at the Order as part of our stealth training. It’s a form of Counting Coup, we had to try and sneak up on a herd of skittery animal Cow or Horses normally. The aim was to get as close to the animals as you could without startling them. The further within the herd you got, the better the bragging rights. And if you managed to touch one well…â€

She didn’t say it, but her tone suggested she’d managed such a feat.

“Well I want to try and do it with some of the big herding dinosaurs. I know it’s a bit weird, but it might be my only chance to try something like this. And you’re not the most subtle of people…†she gave one of her rare smiles “I promise not to pick on anything dangerous. Why don’t you show the new girl around, I’ll try not to get too jealous.â€

"...Oh, okay." He looked almost crestfallen for a moment, but soon recovered his earlier cheer as he said "Will do, princess! Don't get into too many crazy adventures by yourself, I want to be part of at least a couple!" he added laughingly. Watching Blodeuwedd depart for a while, he turned to Giang with an awkward smile and a shrug "So...uh...what do you wanna see around here?" he asked hopefully, the Puerto Rican boy unsure exactly what to suggest.

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Giang was slightly surprised by the warm welcome she and her fellow students received from Lord Zandar's subjects, but she accepted the hugs with a warm smile and polite bows to the crowd. Once they reached the steps of Lord Zandar's hall and the introductions were made, the crowd finally began to disperse. As their host bid them farewell for the remainder of the day, informing them of the welcoming feast this evening, the Asian teen once again made a respectful bow to the Jungle Lord before he made his way inside, apparently to his waiting family.

Turning back to regard her fellow students, Giang saw John was already starting off with one of the translators to see the city. The slightly older teen appeared to have some particular agenda in mind, so the Asian teen did not try to join him. She instead turned briefly to regard Cerys and Subito. While Giang had not been afforded much opportunity to spend time with others her own age growing up, the interaction between the two was not difficult to see, and she had the feeling they probably would like to have time alone together.

She was instead surprised by Cerys' statement of what she had planned and suggesting that Subito stay behind. A look of disappointment crossed the teenager's face, but he soon recovered and said farewell to Creys. "Good luck on your endeavor." The Asian teen stated to the other teenage girl with a small smile.

Looking over to Subito, she simply stated. "I was thinking of starting with the nearby market place. I am interested to see how Lord Zandar's subjects lead their daily lives."

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Subito brightened immediately. The marketplace was a great start. "Sure! C'mon!" he said, waving her to follow as he walked quickly for the distant, tell-tale din of the stalls and yells for people to buy their wares. Both of the Claremont students had read about cultures from the past, and Subito could sometimes catch glimpses of the Taino as they lived before the Spanish came. Neither of them could have expected, however, the riot, noise and clamor of a busy market day in the Lost World!

Weaving as best he could between brightly-clothed jungle dwellers, many of them cheerfully greeting them with <"Welcome, outsiders!"> Subito wandered through the narrow, crowded streets, looking around wide-eyed at the massive slabs of meat hanging from hooks, the piles of rings dangling on strings from poles, the fantastically-shaped fruit whose pungent smell rose even above the strange mingling perfumes, oils and the sharp smell of people who didn't wash too often, and doing his best not to stop and talk to every merchant they passed.

"So, what do you think of this place so far, Giang?" the stocky boy asked the girl curiously, smiling broadly, quite relaxed and at home. "I think it's great! We can learn all about a whole new culture, and maybe teach them some stuff too!" then he saw something that pushed such thoughts from his mind entirely.

"Look! Giang, they've got statues of the Atoms!" he exclaimed gleefully, pointing a powerful arm at a stall bearing at least a dozen masterfully-carved wooden statuettes, each bearing the uncanny likeness of one of the famed adventuring family. The strong looking and pretty girl who was running it quickly saw his interest, and waved the pair over with a bright smile. <"They come from the north, each was shaped by a different master. Take one as a reminder of your stay here!"> she offered cheerily, the bracelets around her muscular arms glinting in the bright light of the Lost World's sun.

The Puerto Rican stared at the young merchant with dancing eyes, then turned to Giang "Oh wow! She says they're each specially made! Should we buy some? I think we should!" Subito told the water-controller, already searching in his backpack for space.

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Giang followed after Subito as they started towards the market place. While the Asian teen had grown up in a village that much of the modern world would consider rather primitive, it had been relatively small in size. The market the two teens found was far busier and exciting than her simple village could ever hope to be. Weaving through the crowds with Subito, she noted some similarities with some of the backstreet markets she had seen during the weeks she had lived on the streets in Singapore, but there was a uniqueness present that was hard to miss.

As they made their way through the narrow streets, the Asian teen did her best to take in all the sights, stopping occasionally to examine some of the astonishing array of handcrafted items that filled many of the stalls. But she was not able to stop for long, before she had to start off again to keep up with Subito. "It is quite amazing. These people seem to have achieved a careful balance with their environment." Giang began to reply when the Puerto Rican teen asked what she thought of the city. But before she could elaborate more, Subito's attention was distracted by what he saw at one of the stalls.

Following behind the stocky teen as he headed to the stall, Giang looked at the statutes that had drawn Subito’s interest. She only had a vague knowledge of the Atoms, having only heard a little of them while growing up, but could see that a great deal of artistry had gone into carving the various statuettes. As Subito talked about buying some of them and began to check his backpack for space, Giang looked over a moment. "What would you use for trade?" She asked. "I do not expect American money has much value here."

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"Oh, right." Subito stopped mid-fumble, looking abashed at the stall girl. He hadn't remembered that they were in a barter economy, and one where a universal currency didn't exist. Sadly zipping the battered red backpack shut, he began to sling it over his shoulder when a light blazed in his eyes. With a smooth movement, he turned to the interpreter who had been doggedly following in their footsteps. Walking up to the man he put a hand on his shoulder, and looked into his eyes with great intensity. "Could you ask her," he said politely "what she will take in exchange for a statue?" the towering man looked baffled, but shrugged and relayed Subito's question to the young woman, who blinked in surprise and answered hastily <"Uh...obsidian? Maybe a-"> without hesitation the stocky Hispanic declared "I'll get you some!" with a bright smile he spun on his heel back down the street, waving back to the statuette seller before she was lost in the swell of the crowd of jungle dwellers. "I have gotta get one of those!" he told Giang excitedly, hazel eyes still bright "It's gonna be a present for my cousin, he's always been a fan of the Atom Family. Oh hey, you got any suggestions for something Cery-" he realized abruptly who he was talking to and blushed furiously, looking away and muttering sheepishly "S-sorry Giang, I...nevermind. So! Where to now?"

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Giang gave a small smile as Subito explained why he wanted to get the statuette. "I am sure he will be very excited. I certainly hope you will be able to obtain some obsidian to trade with." She stated. She then gave him a slightly puzzled look as he apologized to her, as she was not entirely sure what he was apologizing for. "Well, this is only one aspect of these people's daily lives. I was thinking of just exploring more of the city, seeing how they live and examining their ingenious construction methods more." The two teens then made their way out of the market, their translator following behind.

By mid afternoon, Giang and Subito were making their way through another section of the city when they came upon a small courtyard where a number of the narrow streets intersected. In the center of the courtyard was a small pool of water, beside which there were a number of children were playing. As she watched, Giang realized that one of the children was entertaining several of the others with a number of puppets made from wood and cloth. The scene brought a small smile to Giang's face, as her thoughts drifted back to one of the few entertainment activities her surrogate parents, the Trangs, had allowed her to enjoy back in Vietnam, performances by traveling múa rõi nuóc performers.

Translating roughly as "puppets that dance on water," múa rõi nuóc was a centuries old form of puppet theater developed in the villages of the Red River Delta region of north Vietnam as a means of satisfying the spirits thought to reside in the rice paddies, and as a form of entertainment. The "stage" for the performances was a large pool of water on which the puppets appeared to move across. But that was only an illusion, for the puppets were in reality supported by long bamboo poles, controlled by puppeteers located behind a bamboo screen at the back of the pool. Some of the puppets used were articulated, their arm and head movements controlled by string mechanisms located within the bamboo poles.

Of course, once her powers had developed in adolescence, Giang had recognized the irony in her love for the performances, given the central role of water. Since her trip to Hong Kong shortly after her seventeenth birthday, she had come to the further realization that the illusion of the puppets dancing across the watery stage was very much a symbol of her entire life in Vietnam. There had always been someone, her true father, behind the scenes controlling events.

The Asian teen was pulled from her thoughts by the children that had been playing in the courtyard. Having spotted the strangers, they had all gathered around her and Subito, talking excitedly in their unusual language. While she was not able to understand them, the excitement and curiosity in their faces was difficult to miss. Glancing back up at the pool in the middle of the courtyard, a smile came to Giang’s face as she moved forward, the children following behind.

Kneeling down in front of the pool, her legs tucked under her and her back perfectly straight, Giang looked at the children around her. Reaching out, she gently took one of the puppets from the girl that had been entertaining the others as she said, "Where I grew up, I used to watch puppet shows that were done on a stage of water much like this pool." She knew they could not understand her, but hoped the translator might interpret for her. "But I do not have any of the specialized puppets that they would use, and this one will not work either." She handed the puppet back to the girl as her smile widened slightly. "But I think I can do without."

Turning back to regard the pool of water once again, the Asian teen reached out with both hands as she concentrated on the water in front of her. The ripples that had been playing across its surface from the faint breeze smoothed out until the pool became completely still, looking almost like a sheet of glass. Giang made a small gesture with her right hand, and the serpentine form of a water dragon began twisting its way through the water, until it leapt into the air, flying over the pool of water for a moment until it came to a halt in front of Giang and the children. The children laughed as they looked at the watery creation, before more water dragons joined the first and they all began flying through the air over the pool, racing and playing as they went.

The crowd of children around the pool had grown, as a few had gone off and brought back others to watch the show. A number of adults had also stopped in the courtyard to watch as well, adding to the small crowd. After the water dragons had disappeared back into the depths of the pool, mounted Mongol warriors swept across its surface, until Hua Mulan rose up from the water to defeat them. Next, watery puppets acted out the story of Chang'e and Houyi the Archer (or at least one version of the story), all under Giang's careful direction.

When Giang finally released her control over the water in the pool, the crowd around her applauded, the children being clearly amazed and excited by the show. The Asian teen seemed slightly embarrassed by the attention, as she stood up and bowed slightly to those gathered around. Making her way back over to Subito, she looked up at the sky a moment before focusing back on the other teen. "Perhaps we should make our way back to see if the others have returned?"

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The stocky boy kept a little to the back of the crowd as it gathered to watch and applaud Giang's display of supernatural power. It was a decision he quickly came to regret, not least because he kept needing to slip to one side or the other of the fascinated jungle people to properly watch what was going on. All throughout the girl's show he was captivated by the silent art as moving water acted out centuries-old stories, none of which he had ever heard or known of before(except for that of Hua Mulan, of course, and even then he wasn't too sure on some of the details).

More than once he caught himself thinking 'Why can't I do stuff like that?' the Blue Dame was silent, as she didn't need to say anything. He knew the reason well enough, though it wasn't much comfort just then as he watched Giang create a flock of dragons that soared and dipped in liquid ribbons in the wind. Subito clapped with all his might as the show came to an end, calling over to his schoolmate "Bravo! That was awesome, Ms. Trang!" he was all smiles as she rejoined him and suggested they return to Zandar's hall "Sure Giang, I bet Mr. Smith and Blodeuwedd will be back, and fulla awesome stories to tell!"

As they walked back to the house of dinosaur bones, Subito glanced at the slighter girl a few times before suddenly speaking, just as they rounded the sharp corner between an old house crowned with ribs and the broad steps leading up to the hall. "Hey, uh, Giang. Sorry for gettin' all flustered back there. Uh..." he swerved to talk to her directly while walking backwards up the broad flights, a rather serious and awkward expression on his face "What do you...what do you think would be a good gift for someone like Blodeu-I mean, like Cerys?" he asked, the muscular boy blushing at the slip. Rubbing the back of his curly head he added hastily "Uh, I mean, not like I'm thinking you know Cerys super-good, just wonderin' if you had any ideas since you're a girl too, and-darnit." a sudden look of both realization and anguish passed over the boy's swarthy face "I just screwed up bad, didn't I? Um. I'm sorry, shouldn't have assumed. I just thought...sorry, didn't think where I was going with that. er, I usually don't say stuff like that, a-almost never!" he stammered hurriedly 'Smoothly put. Hrrrgggghhhh'

The interpreter had a look on his face that suggested he was well-used to such conversations, though he loathed them, and he very wisely kept silent.

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