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|Railfashions Part 2
|Creators: Ellen Million (Writer)|
|Ressa navigates Alikara's party - and finds that her donation has made her a person of interest to Bai's sister.|
|Posted: 11/12/12 [No comments yet]
~ 1610 words.|
Ressa had carefully waited until there was another person at the donation table, not wanting to be caught alone with Bai and the pledge form she had filled out. Now, with Alikara's full attention on her, Ressa wondered if that had been a mistake. The young woman's curiosity was plain on her face, as was her resolution, and Ressa could see her faint resemblance to both of her brothers. 'Don't underestimate her,' Ressa reminded herself, as the hostess came around the table to formally touch fingers and continue their conversation. She'd made that mistake with Rai.
"Do you have any pets, Guildswoman?" Alikara asked innocently.
"I do not," Ressa admitted. "I find that, like children, I enjoy those of other people when I can feel free to give them back." She offered the skycat on Alikara's shoulder a sniff of her gloved hand, which was deemed acceptable for a token rub. "She's a lovely creature," she said admiringly.
"Sunrise," Alikara introduced. "I've had her since I was in second form. Bai helped me fill out the justification forms for her, back in the day. I believe you know my brother?"
Ressa wondered if she imagined the emphasis on 'know,' and was painfully grateful for the interruption of a brightly-dressed woman who walked to the donation table like she owned it - then started to realize this must be Olarali, the famed courtesan that Bai had a standing appointment with. She looked like the etchings that regularly appeared in the gray rags, and she oozed the self-confidence that only a woman of her status could, but what clinched it in Ressa's mind was the distinctive perfume she was wearing - the perfume that Yeff had given her. It chilled her to remember why she was there, and she was glad that she'd chosen a different, milder, scent for the evening.
"Bai, darling," Olarali said, in a silky voice, blowing an extravagant kiss in his direction. "Alikara, what a delicious party you've thrown." She gave a courteous nod to Ressa, barely enough to avoid insult, and Ressa nodded gravely back.
Olarali made a production out of presenting her pledge note, and Ressa waited for any polite opportunity to excuse herself. She couldn't see the value that Olarali put down, but guessed it was a ridiculous sum, by the reaction of Alikara and Bai, who looked decidedly flustered. Was it more than her pledge? Ressa almost laughed out loud at herself for caring.
At the first available pause in their exchange of thanks and Olarali's careless dismissal of it, she said brightly, "I hear a pairs dance starting up, and I promised a turn with Urti," then vanished back into the crowd as quickly as she could, failing to make eye contact that might keep her there longer.
She'd promised no such thing, but in due diligence found the monitor anyway. He was deep in conversation with a well-dressed elderly man that he looked grateful to escape when she came to pretend a claim to him.
"That one certainly can ramble," Ressa said lightly as they stepped out onto the dance floor. "He had me trapped a good tentick earlier this evening."
Urti gave a little guffaw, and they fell into the dance pattern. Ressa was pleased to find that she remembered the steps she hadn't had an opportunity to practice in many years, and Urti was a passable partner. They might not be the most graceful pair on the floor, but she was relieved to find that neither of them were grossly out of place. The party as a whole had been an unexpectedly good time; she hadn't been false when she told Alikara she had been enjoying herself.
"Did you take his card?" Urti asked, once they'd secured their footing and navigated a turn of the floor.
Ressa chuckled. "I did. How could I refuse it?"
"It's odd to see you wearing that," Urti touched her guild brooch, hand lingering at her throat just a moment longer than was formally polite.
"Ressa-the-Guildswoman belongs at this affair," Ressa said gravely. "Ressa-Head-of-Files has no place here."
"I like Ressa-the-Guildswoman," Urti said unexpectedly. "You should take my card."
Ressa laughed, then sobered when Urti didn't join in; he actually looked offended. "That would be... inappropriate," she said firmly, dismayed. She wasn't sure what part of his offer she liked the least - it wouldn't surprise her if he didn't guess that she had feelings for Bai, but surely he could guess that Bai was in love with her; the License Master was his closest friend! Besides, their vocational involvement through the licensing office made further involvement highly unprofessional.
"Have you seen anyone who looked like they might be out of place?" she asked smoothly.
Sullen, Urti shook his head, and Ressa was glad when the music wound to a stop and an exchange of partners occurred. She must not have danced too poorly, because a handful of young men pushed forward to ask her hand in the next partner dance. She gave Urti a warm thank you that he ungraciously ignored, and selected the quietest of the available suitors to step out with.
After a few attempts at conversation with the poor shy man, she concentrated on dancing, and puzzled over Urti's behavior. Had he been drinking? The room smelled of fine wine and perfume, and he hadn't seemed soused, but even Ressa had enjoyed a few glasses of alcohol, and there was a faint hazeleaf fog in a few less ventilated corners. She vowed to drink no more, and kept a sharp eye out for the next several dances, accepting cards and making idle small talk as the night stretched on and the party began to dwindle.
The gathering gained intimacy as it wound down; the guild musicians packed up their instruments at first bells, and the remaining guests gathered in mellow social knots. Ressa went searching for Alikara, to take a formal leave. Urti seemed to have vanished.
Asking after the hostess led Ressa upstairs, to an open entertainment room where two of the guests were playing on a harmonichron, a broad duet keyboard that used time crystals to produce some unique tonal sounds. Alikara was in conversation with Rai and a woman in embroidered science master robes, but when she caught sight of Ressa in the doorway, she left them to greet her.
"Are you going so soon?" Alikara demanded. "No, you simply can't. Have you met my brother Rai?"
"I... We've met, yes," Ressa said, aware of Alikara's scrutiny as she nodded to Rai before she remembered he wouldn't be able to see her. She wasn't sure how to repair the error, and was letting Alikara draw her into the room before she could protest her need to leave.
Alikara was a masterful conversationalist - every time Ressa felt sure a moment to escape was coming up, she was drawn back in, so subtly and politely that it was impossible to do more than marvel at the young woman's skill. Her questions were careful, never overtly personal, but they showed her attention to detail and Ressa could feel the curiosity prickling behind her innocent steerage of the conversation. Ressa answered everything as truthfully as she could, not needing to fabricate any falsehoods from her past. This led to a discussion of Mruuna crops, and Ressa could not help but feel an odd disconnect - here she was in the upper tiers of city Society, talking about her humble beginnings as a farmgirl in the country. She turned the topic herself, and they compared notes about third form education in the city, before moving on to fashion topics and music. Alikara was thrilled to find that she had been taught to play the harmonichron, and Ressa was protesting that it had been a long while since she'd played before an audience before Alikara was insisting they do a duet.
"We're all friends here," Alikara scoffed at Ressa's reluctance. "I am barely better than competent myself; it's all for fun!"
Ressa was grateful to find that playing the harmonichron, like dancing, had been burned into her muscles so thoroughly as a novice that it came back quickly, and she was able to sight-read the music for a simple duet with Alikara without embarrassing either of them. What remained of the audience gave polite, distracted applause at the end, but Ressa felt that the performance wasn't the focus of the room, which was freeing. By the end of the second song, they were laughing together, and Ressa had to admit that in other circumstances, she would find Alikara a potentially close friend... which reminded her why she here in the first place and her laughter faded.
Fortunately, Alikara's attention was pulled away by a departing guest before she could become curious by Ressa's change of mood. Ressa was able to smooth her expression before Alikara turned back to her. "I have to go say goodbye," she said apologetically. "But don't let me stop you! Bai! Come sit and play the next duet with Ressa."
Ressa managed not to look alarmed to find that Bai had come in while she was playing and was able to smile politely. He was not quite so able to disguise his own dismay, but Alikara tugged his arm without pity, pulling him down into her spot on the bench. "Don't be a baby," she scolded. "You play as well as I do."
Then she was off in a rustle of skirts and a swirl of laughter with one of the few remaining guests on her arm, leaving Ressa perched nervously next to Bai at the harmonichron.