The animal people's argument was growing heated, and Xavier wracked his brains for any Japanese that might help. He was fairly certain he could ask someone to repeat something a little slower, for all the good that would do him, and he was confident he could comment that the weather sure was nice, wasn't it? That had been the get-out-of-jail-free phrase in their class that they used whenever they couldn't remember what they were actually supposed to say.
Fortunately, he also knew how to politely introduce himself for the first time, if he could ever get a word in edgewise.
Movement in his peripheral vision made him start. The cat boy had slipped up next to Xavier and was crouched on his heels watching him. Well, no time like the present.
«Hello, it is nice to meet you. My name is Xavier.»
The short hairs on the cat boy's ears and around the fringes of his hair frizzed up as his eyes widened in surprise.
«What are you idiots talking about?» he called to the others. «This human can speak just fine.» He turned his attention back to Xavier. «Hey, I'm Yukio.»
Xavier caught approximately none of that, though he was fairly certain the cat boy's name was Yukio.
«What are you doing so close to the Deadlands? What is that crazy thing you're wearing? Where are you from? Did you actually siphon Tobi? You're not a mononoke are you?»
"Uh," said Xavier. He'd always thought cats were really aloof creatures, but maybe that didn't apply to cat people? «Could you please repeat that more slowly?»
«What are you doing so close—wait, do you understand what I'm saying? The sun is purple and made out of yak milk. I'm speaking s-l-o-w-l-y. Understand?»
Ah he caught the last word. «I do not understand.»
Yukio stared at him with an expression Xavier couldn't read, then out of the blue snatched Xavier's hand. Xavier instinctively flinched and tried to pull away, but Yukio kept a firm grip on him.
After a few seconds, the cat boy dropped his hand with a cough. «That tickles! I don't think he's siphoning on purpose; he just does it instinctively. Tobi, you probably got hit hard because you're still bulked up. Anyway, can I keep him? He's interesting, and I'm pretty sure if we leave him here he'll just die. He doesn't look very good. Come on, Hisao-san, we can take him with us, right?»
«Very well,» rumbled a voice from behind Xavier, causing him to stiffen. He was so sick of these people sneaking up on him. A hairy hand clamped down on his shoulder as the bear man leaned down to stare at him with an ursine eye. «Behave yourself, human, or you'll deal with me.» With an annoyed look, the bear man lifted his now more-human-looking hand from Xavier's shoulder and shook it as if it had fallen asleep. «And stop doing that. No wonder Tobi kicked him. Yukio, the human is your responsibility.» The bear man moved past Xavier and addressed the rest of the animal people. «Move out. I don't trust this unnatural calm to last, and we're too far into the Deadlands for my liking. We've wasted too much time on this foundling.»
Weapons were sheathed, and Xavier breathed easier as the animal people's focus shifted away from him. Now he just had to convince them to take him—
«Up you go!» came the voice of Yukio, and Xavier found himself hoisted to his feet. «What did you say your name was? Your name? Name, do you understand?»
Ah, he caught that last bit. «Hello, it is nice to meet you. My name is Xavier.»
Yukio made an odd coughing sound, and Xavier realized a moment later it was laughter. «So formal! Also, don't know I you noticed but we've already met. So Zabi-kun, then.»
Xavier shook his head. "Xavier. My name is Xavier. I mean, uh—" How to say it? «My name. Xavier.»
«Yeah, yeah, Zabi-kun it is.»
Xavier had a feeling this was one battle he wasn't going to win.
It was only after an hour or more that Xavier's body realized that he hadn't had any water since the previous evening and had spent the majority of the day walking. Without his willing it, his legs simply folded and he ended up falling in the sand.
Yukio was crouched by him in an instant. «Oy, Zabi-kun, you alright?»
«Idiot,» snorted one of the goat people, who had been walking nearby. «He has no supplies at all, and he came from the direction of the Deadlands. What did you think was going to happen when you decided to make a misplaced human your charity case?»
Yukio just stared at the goat person, who snorted and turned away. Xavier tried to push himself up, but found his arms surprisingly unwilling.
«Alright, up you get,» said Yukio, and hauled Xavier to his feet. «You stay here, 'kay?» The cat boy turned away and headed off toward the bear person. Xavier blearily tried to follow him, and ended up face-first in the sand again for his trouble.
A minute later, Yukio was back, minus his spear. He hauled Xavier to his feet, and began half-carrying him along.
They continued on that way through the twilight, Xavier barely conscious of anything more than trying to get one foot in front of the other while a surprisingly strong cat boy hauled him along.
Full dark fell like a curtain over a lamp, and the group gathered together for a short stop for the first time since the monster had been killed. After a short discussion that Xavier completely failed to follow, the group set out again but in a much tighter cluster. Xavier was hoisted over the shoulder of one of the goat people with a weak protest, and they ventured out in the shimmering light of something held in the hands of several of the group who were at the periphery. It almost seemed like magic, since Xavier could have sworn no one was carrying torches or any sort of extensive supplies, but he never caught a good glimpse of what they were holding and quickly lapsed into a painful fugue state.
The next thing he was aware of was being flopped onto the ground, bedsheets a gritty tangle around his body and limbs. A rough hand forced the fabric away from his face and thrust something against his mouth, and then all he was aware of was water, glorious warm stale-tasting water. Xavier gulped, choked, and somehow managed to swallow what felt like a gallon of water before someone took it away from him. «Enough,» rumbled a voice he couldn't understand. «Rest now.»
Xavier didn't need to overcome the language barrier to follow that final command.