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Bai looked out over the crowd of people as he spoke, not needing to consult the notes he had on cards. He enjoyed speeches, and this was his favorite kind: a smallish, interested audience, all of them in their sparkling best, listening gravely as he waxed eloquent on the topic of pet charities and the problems with unlicensed and abandoned companion animals. Author's Notes
His sister, Alikara, was dressed in the fashion color, pollen, looking more grown-up and sober than he ever considered her. It was hard not to think of her as the gawky little sister who begged and dragged her feet and thought that baths were torture, but here she was, a lady of society, organizing balls and charity socials, much as their mother had. His twin brother Rai stood near her, looking attentively at the little stage that Bai was standing on, though Bai knew he could not see so far. He looked as effortlessly elegant as usual, and Alikara must have told him what to wear, because he, too, was dressed in the lackluster fashion color.
Olarali, to one side and flanked by two high-ranking merchant guild seniors who were more interested in her than in Bai's speech, gave the fashion color only a nod, layering it with other shades of gold until she looked like a metallic sculpture, her hair piled high and spilling loose. Her eyes were edged in reds and golds that flashed even from where Bai stood, and she glittered with jewels - even her license pouch was bejeweled. She carried a rich feathered fan as long as her forearm.
Bai couldn't help but contrast her with Ressa, who stood near the very back of the crowd. Ressa had given the fashion color no notice at all, and was dressed in silvers and gray; a far less showy version of Olarali with her understated makeup. Her long, dark hair was loose and smooth, just barely swept back by a pair of silver and black clips, and her license pouch was black with silver edging. There was a sparkle of jewelry at her throat, and the cut of her dress was modest and flattering. She carried no fan, and her long, black-gloved hands were clasped serenely in front of her.
To her side was Urti, looking fine in his fanciest clothing, and Bai actually stumbled in his speech when he saw the look on his friend's face: almost predatory, even from across the room, gazing at an unaware Ressa. Bai found his spot on his card, and realized at the sound of a loud sniff from a society lady near the front that the distraction had come at good timing; his stumble could easily be blamed on the touching story he was telling. "Animals like this deserve our protection," he resumed smoothly. "They need our attention and our compassion, and we owe them better than neglect and dismissal once they've served a brief entertainment. A little love and a license, and they will continue to serve us to very depths of their hearts, like little Skyeyes." He nodded at Alikara, who was looking up at him with suspiciously shining eyes, fingers twined in Sunrise's coat where the skycat sat on her shoulder.
He paused to let that sink in, then said lightly, "Now, my sister will have me turned out as unlicensed if I leave you all sniffling, so let me end with a happier story, one that explains why licenses use the inks that they do..."
The final story drew chuckles and smiles, as it was meant to, and a warm round of applause as Bai concluded with a clever joke and a small bow. "There are flyers with a list of useful items that the pet charity is in need of that you can spend your leftover credits over by the donation table, where I have promised Alikara that I will sit and collect bank pledge notes, to make sure everything is done legally." He said the final word with a sly wink, playing on his reputation for being a stickler for the rules, and left the stage to a swirl of compliments and light conversation.
Alikara met him at once, her brown eyes proud in her smiling face. "That was a wonderful speech, Bai," she said. She tapped him with her fan approvingly.
"Would I let you down?" Bai asked. He would have given her a hug around the shoulders in a less formal setting, but settled for a brief squeeze of her arm instead. It gave him a certain amount of pleasure to make his little sister so happy, and it had been worth digging through the musty library for the perfect touching story to share.
He made his way through a congratulatory crowd for the donations table, pausing briefly to ask after someone's new child, to greet an old friend, and to accept rambling approval from an elderly man that Bai couldn't quite place in his memory. He made a point of telling Denel she looked lovely, which made her blush and clutch her husband's arm shyly. He didn't see Ressa or Urti on his way to the table.
Alikara, like their mother, preferred exclusive gatherings; she rarely sold tickets to her events, but made them invitation-only. This, she liked to argue, made the attendants more likely to donate, and to appreciate the lengths she went to. Certainly this crowd was appreciative, and Bai was quite pleased to watch the donations tally as the evening went on.
"You're going to outdo Mother's best charity ball," he told his sister, when she returned from doing social rounds to spend a few moments sitting at the table.
"It's the fang deer," Alikara laughed. "Everyone loves watching their tricks."
"Nasty, vicious creatures," Bai said, unimpressed. "One of them tried to bite me before the guests arrived."
Alikara shushed him, giggling, as someone came to the table, and Bai took the donation pledge to witness before looking up to realize that it was Ressa's gloved fingers handing it to him. He recovered quickly, bending his head to stamp the form as Alikara smiled up at her.
"I hope you've enjoyed the evening, Guildswoman..." Alikara said, perfectly politely. There was a tiny pause at the end, inviting Ressa to fill in her name, which she obligingly did, with a smile for her hostess that warmed Bai even from the edges.
"I've had an utterly lovely time," Ressa added, and Bai didn't disbelieve her for a moment, her voice was so full of sweetness and amusement. While he scrawled his signature and tattoo hash on the pledge, a finely dressed young man came to offer her a card, which she accepted with a smile that sent him reeling away.
"You have to tally that," Alikara reminded him, as Bai tucked the pledge into the collection basket without seeing it, and he blushed a little to have to take it back out and add it to the tally - which made him pause in outright astonishment, and Alikara, looking over his shoulder, made a little noise of surprise.
"Oh, Ressa!" She said in delight. "How perfectly generous of you!"
Bai could almost hear the gears in Alikara's head grinding. He doubted that she recognized her name from his minimal talk of the Licensing Office, so here was a woman that Alikara didn't know, clearly comfortable in Society, dressed in rich, understated elegance and sporting a guild brooch, donating a sum of money that made even the two of them do a double-take. Would she recognize Ressa from the brief grayrag attention they had gathered after the yearsend play? Would she assume that she was a hired guildswoman of Bai's? Bai tried not to squirm as Ressa made a few polite protests, and eyed the swirl of people that were too far away from the table to draw into distracting conversation... to spot Olarali sailing in their direction.
This section of the Rails series is heavily influenced by Elizabeth - her idea for the fashion colors, her (forthcoming!) story about Alikara's skycat, and (in the following two sections) her creation of the harmonichron. She also gave a prompt at the July 2012 Muse Fusion that sparked the very beginning of this writing.