Blind Dates: Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

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Blind Dates: Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

Post by Brokk » Sun Feb 09, 2014 10:24 pm

Ren fidgeted. It wasn't that she was uncomfortable in this neighbourhood, not at all, Gottfried Landar's daughter had seen more than her share of upper class neighbourhoods, even before she reached Marn. Hell, she'd been through here countless times plying her wares to those few as would buy. She fixed her hair absently and resisted the urge to scoff. They just weren't ready for the kind of modern, forward thinking items she brought, that was the only explanation. Sure, some of them were a bit finicky and a bit, well, dangerous, but wasn't that the price of progress? Plus, she was certain someone was stealing her ideas, at least judging by the cheap knock offs of her products she saw around. How were they getting their hands on her recipes? She was sure they were secure and patented. Probably. She sighed. Thank Changer for a booming street food market and an active criminal class or else she'd be sleeping in the street. True, she was already technically sleeping in the street but that was beside the point.

Smoothing down her dress once again, she glanced at her reflection in the nearby window to settle her nerves. She hoped her attire would meet with approval. It was important in any negotiation to look one's best after all. Plus she'd spent most of the last day running in and out of dress shops while trying to make her mind up.She did look good, she had to admit, even if she'd had a minor heart attack handing over that much money for a dress, though she'd been unable to shake off her upbringing in that regard. Despite her best efforts to choose something in a more cheerful shade, she'd opted for a tight, figure hugging of deep green linen with a panel of black damask down the front of the torso depicting a flock of birds and flowers from her right hip to her left shoulder. Though long sleeved, the dress left her shoulders bare, with a modest neckline accentuated by minimalist embroidery along the edges. A simple jacket and a small purse of matching colour completed the look. While the dress did not quite reach her ankles, her modesty was preserved by a pair of black calf boots with stiletto heels, which looked good but made walking an adventure. Her hair and make up were simple, but elegant, accentuating her eyes. Opening her purse briefly, she checked once again that the blackjack was securely stowed there. It was, and she closed it again. Her attire left little room to bring her daggers and she was nothing if not security conscious. Even leaving her things at the warehouse had been difficult, but it had to be done, at least for tonight.

So here she was, sat at a dining table outside one of Marn's best tea rooms waiting for some wonder from the East to show up. She had a full evening planned, which she intended to pursue even if this Piao Bai didn't materialize. She'd gone to a lot of trouble to find a good restaurant that served al fresco, whoever he was, since he had to eat outside too. Plus it was a nice night, which helped. She shook her head again, trying to clear it. Her nerves were slowly getting the better of her, which she hated. Changers damn her idiocy for signing up to this damned dating service. Yes, the streets were lonely at night but surely it wasn't worth all this trouble? Turning her attention to the street, she took up her hobby of people watching. She noted what was being bought and sold, picking out the trends in dinging and fashion as best she could without staring. Surely there was a gap in the market for new perfumes and scented candles? Her date was from Tian Xia, surely he could set her up with some exotic spices or something to give her an edge. At least she assumed it was a he, though you could never tell with these foreign types. She hoped he turned up soon though, as she could see a novice salesman from where she sat. The lad was wandering along with a tray of expensive wotsits and a lost expression, trying in vain to tempt the people of Marn to part with their money. Perhaps he'd appreciate some tips from an experienced saleswoman enough to give her commission. She drummed her fingers on the table restlessly and took a sip of water. She'd give it a few more minutes. Then all bets were off.

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Re: Blind Dates - Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

Post by Long Piao Bai » Tue Feb 11, 2014 3:06 am

As Piao Bai walked the streets of Marn, heads turned. It was to be expected. He was a foreigner and obviously so.

His hair was long and white, his ears were pointed, his skin was very pale, and his eyes were golden. Then, there was his clothing. Piao Bai wore a blue silk changsan over white pants and a white shirt. The shirt arms and legs were loose, but were snug at his ankles and wrists. Black slipper like shoes were on his feet. He made little sound when his feet hit the ground. His face was remarkably unlined, the mouth generous and the features almost, almost pretty enough to be feminine.

Piao Bai's gaze, though, was filled with curiosity. He wondered about the clothing styles, the people, what they thought, what they liked, and everything in between. Marn was a different place from the Imperial City. He had had to register himself with the local authorities, not only because he was a visiting dignitary but also because he was not human. A curious, closed place this...

Piao Bai consulted the grey card he'd received and mouthed the name to himself in the local tongue. "Renn Brokk..." Peering around, he spotted the cafe and the woman waiting outside.

"Please, excuse me. I am seeking..." here Piao Bai paused and consulted the card again, "... Renn Brok. May it be you?" Thought- speak would be much easier, but he had been informed that doing so was against the laws unless he was physically unable to speak. A bother...

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Re: Blind Dates - Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

Post by Brokk » Tue Feb 11, 2014 1:53 pm

It was the boy's fault really. If she hadn't been so caught up in trying not to relieve him of his money in an interesting and hard to follow fashion she might have actually noticed the man walking up to her. As it was though, she thought she recovered with grace. What actually happened was that she jumped out of the chair so quickly that it almost fell over, and while trying to catch it she also threatened to send the table going as well. Using astonishing, cat-like reflexes that she didn't know she possessed, she somehow managed to catch everything and slip it all back into place, glaring at objects until they stopped moving. She straightened and smiled her sunshine smile, slightly flushed with embarrassment.

"I am, yes," she said, her accent twisting the consonants slightly as she brushed down her dress, "would you be Piao Bai, by any chance? If you're not, then he will have a lot to live up to."

She smiled a little wider, eyes twinkling and gestured broadly to the table before her as her heart returned to something approaching its usual speed. Around them the street continued to hum and flow with the countless small activities that made it what it was, although she noticed a few of the sharper traders had edged hopefully closer. Foreign money was considered somehow better than local money after all. She didn't understand the theory of it, but hell, who did? Tian Xia was all about harmony and flow, wasn't it? She could work with that. she thought, holding out her hand.

"Apologies for my reaction, I see the flow of commerce and it threatens to pull me away," she said, bowing slightly, though her eyes never left his, nor did her smile falter, "Renora Brokk, at your service, serrah."

He was attractive, certainly, and undeniably exotic, the smooth contours of his garments accentuating his slender frame perfectly. There was something...up...with him though, she thought, taking in first his hair colour and the odd headdress he wore. Except that it wasn't a headdress, was it? He had small horns, and his hands had claws, and when he spoke, she thought she got a glimpse of sharp teeth. Alright, she could work with that. She nodded to a hovering waiter who came forwards after only a brief double take and stood expectantly. She wasn't entirely sure how tastes ran the East but tea and coffee rarely went out of fashion, and this place had the best selection of artisnal brews in all of Marn.

"Peppermint tea, please, Herman," she said, turning her smile to the waiter briefly before returning it to her date.

The man nodded and turned to Piao Bai.

"And for the gentleman?"

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Re: Blind Dates - Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

Post by Long Piao Bai » Wed Feb 12, 2014 1:54 am

Piao Bai returned her smile with a broad smile with his own. Fangs were easily visible. "I am indeed." Piao Bai bowed gracefully to the woman. "I thank you. You are like my friend Wenshen Cai. She is very focused, too." Although Piao Bai could not think of a time when Cai was anything other than graceful.

Serrah... he would file that one away for later investigation. Piao Bai moved to the table and took a seat, now that it was steady once more. The waiter waited for him to decide on a drink.

"Have you any black tea from Tian Xia? I would prefer this." The waiter nodded.

"Yes, sir, we do." With that the waiter took his leave.

Paio Bai reached into this changsan and produced the blind date message.

"I have not heard of this before." He held out the letter to Renn, " What is this Blind Date pool that we find ourselves participating in? Is it a means to introduce those who would not have met otherwise? Or is it an arranged marriage meeting? I admit I am very confused."

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Re: Blind Dates - Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

Post by Brokk » Wed Feb 12, 2014 1:52 pm

"I doubt you are the only one," Ren said, smiling as she accepted her tea. "It is most likely the former, although I must say, I have never heard of one that spread quite so far afield."

She sipped her drink, wincing slightly at the temperature and blowing on it to cool it down. Meanwhile, her mind was still whirring over the puzzle the man presented. Sometimes her inner trader just would not be silent. He seemed uneasy here, which was understandable, but more curious than cautious, with a very philosophical turn of mind.

"I am glad, however, that you considered me worthy of a long journey into a strange land," she said with a smile, then she let her eyes turn inwards, "and Marn is a strange place."

Shaking her head, she sipped her tea again, this time savouring the bittersweet brew as she rolled it around her tongue. It was an old habit, but fine things were few and far between, so why not savour them? She returned her mind to the task at hand, considering his question. What was the purpose of these exercises? Meeting people mostly, generally with the view of pairing them up so that the matchmaker felt better about themselves, but beyond that? She leaned back in her seat, trying to shut out the sounds of the street and still her nerves. If only she had something to sell, that would have made it easier. Perhaps she did. After all, she may have to sell this whole dating process as an idea to her date. It was an intriguing thought.

"All of life is about questioning ourselves," she said, after a moment's thought, "don't ask me who said that, but it sounds about right."

She withdrew her own letter from her purse, turning it over in her free hand and running her fingers along the embossed edging of the paper. Slipping into the mindset was disturbingly easy at times.

"I suppose this Blind date pool is no different," she said, taking another sip. "We all have our assumptions. By forcing us into interaction with people we are exposed to other viewpoints and other influences. Thus, by being exposed to things we did seek, we perhaps awaken to those things we do, and knowing that we can grow."

She smiled again.

"Though I've honestly never given it much thought before today."

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Re: Blind Dates - Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

Post by Long Piao Bai » Wed Feb 12, 2014 2:13 pm

The waiter returned as Ren spoke, placing the tea on the table before Piao Bai. The cup was odd, with it's handle and flared design. Piao Bai ran his finger over the cup. His gaze was guileless and he smiled a little, bemused by the differences.

"I am glad, however, that you considered me worthy of a long journey into a strange land..."

Piao Bai's gaze turned to Ren. He was slightly wide-eyed. "I have traveled the breadth of Tian Xia. I like to travel and learn. I thank you for agreeing to meet me as well."

"... and Marn is strange place."

"Isn't it? Everything is so repressed here. I had to declare my presence and register myself with their government. Granted, a foreign visitor should be expected to do as much, but the registration is because of my very nature and not because I am a visitor. How odd! I confess I do not understand this Puradyne thinking. It seems contrary to the reality around them." Piao Bai lifted the cup in both hands and took a sip. A contented look crossed his face.

"The water makes the taste a little different, but it is still tea." Piao Bai placed the cup back upon the table and gave Ren his full attention as she spoke. Her words were philosophical and he agreed with them.
Piao Bai nodded.

"My experiences have certainly helped me learn more about the world. Tell me more about you, Ren-xiaojie. What is it you do? How did you come to Marn? Are you very familiar with it?"

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Re: Blind Dates - Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

Post by Brokk » Wed Feb 12, 2014 9:08 pm

She watched as he picked up the cup, his pale slender fingers caressing the porcelain of something that both was and was not familiar. Tea was less of a beverage and more of an experience in the East she'd heard. Looking at him now she could well believe it. She wondered if there was a market for that in Marn. If she could sell the upper classes on the idea, sure; they were always looking for ways to out-nobility one another. Somewhere behind them, birds took flight, and she shivered, resisting the urge to look around. There were no pigeons here. She'd checked.

"I find that no amount of travelling in a land you understand prepares you for your first steps in a land you don't," she said, sadly, "I still have the scars from my time in Ciasse..."

She sipped her own tea and considered his questions. The pull was not as bad now that her mind was firmly engaged. Now she was advertising Marn and, she supposed, herself. That made it interesting. Puradynes and reality. How could you explain that? It was fear and hatred made statutory, and not for the first time. Was that right or fair? No. But then there was only one fair thing in life and that was quite final. Behind his curiosity there was a certain discomfort. He hid it well, but it was there. It wasn't with the situation though. She doubted she'd ever truly know what it was. She looked at him in his elegant, yet simple garments; a picture of aesthetic purity, and for a moment, saw a parallel.

"It does, doesn't it? They need outsiders to breathe life into their walls but they detest them equally because they are too proud to ask for help. At its heart, Marn is still a fortress," she said, smiling again, "and everyone who wasn't here when they built it should kindly come in with their hands where they can see them, put their money down and, just as kindly, depart again. Somewhere along that chain of reasoning, life happens. So it goes. Puradynes simply believe that the world should be fixed, stable and reliable. But the world knows better."

She took another sip and licked her lips delicately, smiling once again, as she looked into his eyes, wondering what to say.

"I'm a trader by...er...trade," she said, somewhat sheepishly, "though I suppose I haven't quite settled on what exactly I'm trading. Whatever people will buy, I suppose, which it turns out, is almost anything if you're good at selling."

Which was true. People would buy damn near anything if you were persuasive enough. Maybe they just wanted part of the magic. Ren never wondered about it beyond pocketing the money and making an hasty and surreptitious exit before things went south. She took another sip, noting that her cup was slowly draining, but uncertain if she wanted more. Something was prodding her imagination. Perhaps it was the ethereal image he presented.

"I came here...oh...," she paused, as if uncertain, "isn't that remarkable? I can't remember. It seems that once I was somewhere else and then I was here. It is an odd feeling."

She glanced at her reflection in her cup for a moment.

"As for Marn, you could say that I know parts of it quite well, and other parts of it a lot better than I'd like to. Once you get past the masks they wear people are still people."

And people have money which they can be persuaded to part with. Only hands could wash hands. That part of her imagination was still doggedly prodding.

"It never truly feels like home though," she said, "do you ever feel like that?"

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Re: Blind Dates - Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

Post by Long Piao Bai » Wed Feb 12, 2014 11:21 pm

Piao Bai listened to her speak, as if enthralled with every word.

"You were harmed in this Ciasse place? Where is it?" As if she were an expert story-teller, his emotions followed the flow and ebb of her speech. He looked angry and worried for her. She continued and he looked curious.

"Are you a Puradyne?" He leaned forward, wondering.

"Ah, you are a merchant." Piao Bai nodded and leaned back, as if being a merchant meant such things as being a Puradyne was not possible.

"I am a traveler. I offer my services to those who need them or when I desire to, but my work in Tian Xia ensured that I am rarely without." Piao Bai smiled happily and contentedly. He liked his creature comforts.

"Home?" The smile faltered and he looked a little sad. "No, it is indeed nothing like home."

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Re: Blind Dates - Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

Post by Brokk » Thu Feb 13, 2014 11:57 pm

"Ciasse? Its due west of here, bordering Madaal to the south, Orkarov to the north and with one of the best fishing ports on the Maw, or so the story goes. Its a land of shifters, wolves mostly, but with a fair peppering of the others, and they're not exactly what you might call welcoming of those of the fixed form persuasion. Now me, I thought that was nonsense when I went there. Compared to the welcome I got there, Marn is positively charming and aglow. By the time I made it out they weren't so much trying to hurt me as they were trying to kill me. Something about the fact that I wouldn't die offended them, I think. Or maybe it was the rabbit. I didn't really get the chance to ask."

She smiled at the memory, recalling that it had not seemed particularly funny at any point. Humans in Ciasse tended to find out very quickly how fast they could run. She sipped her tea. It had been her own fault for not heeding the warnings, yes, but she just didn't see why they took so badly to what her products had done. Sure, there had been a few side effects but nothing life threatening. Mostly. It didn't help that the clans were very reluctant to let the prey get away. It must have been something in the water. Not that it made them any smarter, but then they were clever enough as it was.

"Fortunately, I can run very fast when I have to," she said, raising her cup in a sort of salute, "only the quick and the cunning survive."

She considered the his other questions.

"I was born Puradyne, as much as anyone was, though I never truly believed as others did. For many its a life, and they die in the life. But not me."

He seemed quite sad at the mention of home, his brief melancholy warring with the other emotions he projected as they spoke. It wasn't unusual by any means, but it stuck with her. She'd learned to trust those kinds of feelings. Whether he would open up was anyone's guess. For her part, she decided that a little honesty would not go astray.

"It is the traveller's curse, is it not? Always moving. Always the new face in town. It is strange to be alone in a crowd; to see faces and hear voices that both are and aren't like your own," she said, a little sadly. "I miss the smells of Weisswasser; pine and honey and the sea. I wonder what time has done to it. I wonder if my family still thrive. It is hard sometimes, to recall their faces."

She turned her teacup around in her hands, regarding Piao Bai over the rim of it.

"Though I suppose words cannot really convey the feeling."

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Re: Blind Dates - Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

Post by Long Piao Bai » Fri Feb 14, 2014 1:08 am

"Shifters? I have only met the dragons of Tian Xia." Any others he had met had actually been like him, denizens of the astral. But, unlike him, those had intended to cause harm.

Piao Bai had come to Marn by taking the Northern Trade Route. He slipped his hand into his changshan and produced a well-worn map. Looking at the map, saw where they were in relation. When she smiled, he smiled, too. He couldn't help it.

"Oh, that is good. If you couldn't, you wouldn't be here now." He listened, as well, as Ren described her take on Puradynism. Her answer made him feel a little more relaxed. He nodded in reply to her question.

"Yes, it is. I feel as if I am looking at things from the wrong side of a mirror." Piao Bai reached out a hand and covered hers with his. It was an awkward gesture, given she was holding her cup at the time. "It sounds lovely." He paused, thinking, as his hand slipped from hers.

"I find music and other means of art help express the emotions words cannot."

The waiter had returned.

"Would you have any ..." Piao Bai paused for a moment, trying to find the Marnian word for what he wanted. His hands curved up as if he were holding a sandwich, "...meat buns? Buns filled with meat and spices?"

"I will check, sir."

Piao Bai looked to Ren, "Would you care for another cup of tea?" The waiter hovered waiting for the pair to finish their order.

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Re: Blind Dates - Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

Post by Brokk » Sun Feb 16, 2014 11:16 am

"Music and art," she said, as though tasting the words, "that is true. It still means distilling these feelings into specific forms."

She laughed gently and musically as she set her cup down into its saucer. At the periphery of her vision she could see the staff hovering once again. It was time to get moving then. She did wonder at Piao Bai's reservations. He was very curious, but very reluctant to reveal anything about himself. And he had not met many other shifters? Interesting. All they ever heard of the dragon shifters was rumour and hear say. Perhaps it was true that having knowledge of them gave you power over them beyond the figurative, though she doubted it.

"It is quite the talent," she went on, smiling as infectiously as ever, "to be able to crystallize an emotion into a specific image or tune. I envy you that. Are all your countrymen so talented?"

The waiter returned and Ren suppressed a glare. People skills were of paramount importance and upsetting staff was never a good move. They had a magpie's eye for gossip and could be useful sources if approached properly. Besides, the street was quieter now this side of the plaza. She could hear the sounds of commerce from a few streets over though, which still sang to her, despite the young street trader having departed. Around them the sounds of the night had not abated in the least and it was a music all of its own. Hopefully it would be more literal later on. Glancing at her empty cup, she shook her head gently, pushing the cup and saucer away.

"Thank you, no, I want to leave some room for dinner," she said with a wink and a sly smile, "and I think a stroll would do us good. I can wait while you eat."

There was the Restaurant to consider later, after all, and more of Marn to show him. It was far too fine a night to waste.

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Re: Blind Dates - Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

Post by Long Piao Bai » Wed Feb 19, 2014 2:28 am

Piao Bai truly liked Ren's smile. When she smiled, it made him smile, so he did. When Ren declined to eat, Piao Bai's eyes opened wide.

"Oh, then, I will decline anything further as well. A walk is good. I am curious to see more of the city."

Reaching into his changshan again, Piao Bai produced a handful of Bishan. Certainly, the amount he held would pay for their tea several times over.

"Please, how much for our tea?" Trustingly, he held out the handful of coin toward the waiter, so the waiter could take the correct amount.

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Re: Blind Dates - Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

Post by Brokk » Wed Feb 19, 2014 8:03 pm

"Well then," said Ren, still smiling, "lets hope it doesn't disappoint. That's five Bishani."

The waiter glanced up at her helpful tone and seemed to do a brief double take quickly counting and selecting the coins before withdrawing with their empty cups. Ren watched him go with a very nice smile and picked up her purse thoughtfully, turning back to Piao Bai eagerly. Useful as they were, some people still needed to be watched. Greed was a many and varied thing after all.

"I've got a few things planned for tonight, but mostly I thought we could take things as they come," she said, mischievously. "A visit to the night markets is always an experience. Haggling over a quarter Bishan with a trader is one of life's timeless joys, I think. Though I may be biased there."

She shrugged happily and glanced around, standing as quickly as her shoes would allow. There was a lot in Marn to see if one had the stomach for it, or indeed the patience to watch. It always amazed her that so many of its citizens walked the streets and knew nothing of it. Had she been like them once? Probably, but she doubted it.

"Or," she said with barely a pause, "there's the terraced gardens of the University. We might have to jump the fence, but what's a romantic night out without the thrill of the chase?"

She picked up her jacket and draped it around her shoulders.

"There's also a performance in Memorial Park later on," she said, thinking, "its the opening of the Teutonian opera, the Angel Saga, I believe. It should be good."

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Re: Blind Dates - Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

Post by Long Piao Bai » Sat Feb 22, 2014 5:11 am

"Ah, thank you." Piao Bai looked at the coins bemusedly. In his opinion, they all looked the same. He put the rest back and looked at Ren.

"You do? Lovely!" Curiosity and excitement shone in Piao Bai's eyes. When Ren stood, Piao Bai stood as well. When she suggested jumping a fence, Piao Bai tilted his head to the size, curious. "Thrill of the chase?" Jumping fences sounded like fun, but who would be chasing them? Or would they be chasing someone?

"I do like music. Ren Brokk, you are amazing! Come, let us explore and jump and chase and listen as you have suggested." Piao Bai's face had lit up with enthusiasm. He looked around and inhaled a breath.

"What an interesting experience. I read once that experience is like a river. It is always flowing unless you build a dam. We should not build any dams, don't you think?" Clasping his hands behind his back, Piao Bai waited for Ren to lead the way.

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Re: Blind Dates - Ren Brokk and Piao Bai

Post by Brokk » Sun Feb 23, 2014 1:15 pm

"Is it not a truer pleasure to break through the dams of others? To release that flood of experience into a another waiting heart?"

She raised an eyebrow quizzically and smiled, slipping her jacket on as she stepped out into the street. His enthusiasm was infectious, though she wondered how to explain the priggishness of the Marn Guard to an outsider. Somehow the theory of we were running so they decided to chase us just would not form itself into words. She fought the urge to shake her head, laughing as she held out her hand for him.

"Come on, Mystery Man," she said, "the night awaits."

The night market was one of those funny little quirks that cities developed over time. Shops had an opening time and shops had a closing time. This was a given. But there were always people who couldn't sleep and turned over in their beds at night wondering where they could get a bolt of silk and a new carpet in the small hours of the morning. There were also people who for one reason or another just did not like daylight. Take these types of people and show them a loop hole in common law that meant markets could operate beyond closing time as long as it wasn't downtown and shortly afterwards the night market had sprung up. An alliance of street traders, hawkers and other flotsam, they paid a small fee and clogged an intersection of the residential district with an array of brightly lit stalls and shows that dazzled the eye and whet the appetite. It helped that they kept moving too so that no residents had enough time to complain.

Ren could hear the sounds of it ahead, the lively voices muffled by the buildings but ringing strangely in the darkening air. As they walked she pointed out the landmarks to her escort, explaining what little of the history she'd been able to glean during her time and the strange folk stories that had sprung up around them. As she did so, she interspersed her explanations with brief questions about his homeland and traditions, pointing out some of the changes and developments in building styles and dress she had noticed too. As they approached the street proper, Ren pull Piao Bai aside out of the path of a Guard Patrol and leaned in to whisper.

"Marn Guard. Too much time on their hands. No sense of humour."

She smiled mischievously and gestured widely to the stalls as they rounded the corner. The streets were thronged with people coming and going, moving in groups to take advantage of the warmth while coloured lanterns and vaulted awnings framed the traders as they gestured and called loudly to the crowds; each as fierce and proud as any noble in their own way. As they moved closer she could see and almost feel the shifts in atmosphere; the trends, the alliances and the subtle rivalries that made people what they were. Breathing deeply, she wrapped an arm around Piao Bai and winked at him.

"Commerce," she said, "there's nothing like it in the world. Come on, lets see if we can't find you a snack."

So saying, she stuck out her tongue at him and ducked away into the crowd.

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