[Beleth looking bored] [Andre looking proud of his graffiti]

Interludes »

Cargo (part 1)

She needed to hurry. It had been a long day. Well, a long month. The paperwork and the calls and the escorting… they'd kept her busy. Talking by compact was tiring; arranging safe places for a month from Mew York to Dewclaw and finally down to the Luxuries… it was tiring. All of it. The constant act, the constant pulling strings in such a way that anyone eavesdropping on any of her calls wouldn't be any the wiser to the mission at hand. It wasn't very difficult to sound ditzy, to sound a little clueless, but it was tiring when everyone constantly treated you like a cutesy, dim bulb.

That was the whole point, of course, but... It was just tiring.

The face-to-face meetings were worse. Time-consuming. If she were meeting with a guy, he usually wanted to try something, and she would have to cause an accident to happen to him if she couldn't talk him out of whatever was on his mind. Aside from that, the locations had to be free of bugs. She had to check everything beforehand, to be thorough.

It was important that she get this job, that she help run the... treasure hunt thing, whatever it was called. Had an official name even been decided yet? She didn't know, but supposed she would find out later in the meeting with the guy helping run it. She quickened her pace down to the dock. The tram cut out most of the distance, but there were still a couple of miles left between her and the sea dragon. Her final obstacle before the escorting was out of her hands.

This guy, he was said to be reliable. Trustworthy. The same damn thing had been said about the creeps she'd had to meet with in the past, so...

And besides, Anana didn't trust anyone but her own sister. They were in this together, and it was together that they would see their tasks through. Sometimes, it looked like they were alone. Sometimes, it looked like Anana was shouldering the brunt of the work, carrying out life-and-death tasks over the course of a sleepless, frantic month, while her sister got to… … Whatever. It wasn't important. They were always both doing work that aligned with what the other currently needed done, but it was just that Anana's errands often involved rushed schedules and being treated like something she wasn't, and that really grated on her nerves. It wasn't so bad in small doses, but over time?

Though it wasn't as if Papaya had no annoyances or peril of her own to deal with, but she at least got to seem important. Anana had to lay back from that. Everything would be ruined if it looked too much like she had any idea what her sister was up to, or if she got too notorious for anything in particular except trying to run the little shop in West Luxury passed down from her parents. It couldn't look too successful, or eyes would be all over it, wondering if favors were involved in the business's success. It also couldn't look like it was failing, or someone might start to wonder if Anana made end's meet by working with less savory types.

She just needed to escape notice. Be cute, be spacy, be insignificant, be invisible.

Awful… awful. Why? Why did she have to be invisible?

The only times she actually wanted to evade others were when--

"Hey sweet thing."

--someone mistook her for an easy catch. Or a catch at all, really. She was no play thing. She was also annoyed. Hardly anyone was within earshot. Screaming wasn't a good option. Had this guy been stalking her? She hadn't even heard anyone walking behind her, though it was true that she might have been too preoccupied, too tired to notice. She swiveled around, managing a perfect imitation of a genuine smile. It was a manticore. Very large, mostly green, overly spiny. This would be frustrating, almost certainly.

"Oh! Hello. I'm terribly sorry, but I'm actually running late! I have a meeting to attend, and I-"

He cut her off.

"Oh, I bet. But you know, I can't really imagine that's much more interestin' for a gal like you than comin hangin out with me in the city." He had been stalking her. He had definitely been stalking her. The look in his eyes said it, and his tone confirmed. For how long, though? For how long had she been within range of that gigantic stinger? She started to feel a tremor build up in her gut and her legs, but kept steady. Someone was depending on her, so she needed to stay strong. She'd been in worse situations, way worse, but felt very foolish for this particular one to have crept up on her like it had.

Why hadn't he used his stinger yet? If he was a coercive type, and he was definitely such a manticore, then wouldn't the stinger do the job the best? He could've easily used it, employed its venom, and gotten…well.

It was a very large stinger.

But… No. Was it in the game? The thrill of cornering her out in the open? Seeing how she would react? A stinger wasn't necessary there. Unless things went wrong, probably.

That seemed closer.

That also made it scarier. He started with the assumption that she was a game to win, and what was she to do about it? He'd set it up in his favor before ever letting her know she was a part of it.

Anana frowned and pouted a little. She knew it was convincing. "I'm so sorry! Nothing sounds lovelier right now, but I'd be in a lot of trouble if I missed this…"

She paused, scanned his face without betraying her own feelings, and then realized what direction to take it. "The guy I'm meeting with gets a little cross with me when I don't show up on time! He says, 'timeliness is next to godliness,' you know?"

The manticore's face crinkled a little at the brows. Either he would think her too stupid to pursue, or he'd start dumbing down his act a little, allowing her to make her move. Both were viable, though she greatly preferred that he leave as soon as possible.

Instead he got closer. A couple of steps forward and it took everything not to just immediately bolt for it. But of course, that would be useless. She wouldn't be able to run fast enough to escape his long legs and tail, and she hadn't built up nearly enough anger or fright to pull out her own escape card, yet, though her fear was escalating pretty quickly.

"You can get away from all that. It sounds a little like you could use a break, anyway. You seem all tense." Big toothy grin. Big goddamn toothy fucking grin. He knew, at least on some level, that he was unnerving her. She knew her body language and tone and expressions were perfect; she was, by all accounts, a permanent actress in the play starring her and Papaya. Every single thing she did had to be perfect.

And this guy showed up, saying she was tense. She wasn't showing it. He couldn't have seen it on the surface. Was it just something he said, then? It had to be. A common line. Something to convince girls to drink and get loose later, probably.

She cocked her head and put her ears back. "Tense…?" Suddenly, realization washed over her face."Oh! Maybe I seem a little nervous, but that's because this meeting's really big! It's for a job I was chosen for out of hundreds of bids… and if I blow it, I'm going to miss out on the money! It'll go to the choice below me."

He still looked tenacious. His eyes were narrowed slightly, and his grin was fading. He seemed slightly more serious than he had been. It was a little worrisome. This guy felt like he was reading right through her perfect act, her perfect conversation. How?

But even then, it was starting to piss her off. Just how obnoxious was he? She clearly didn't want to be here, and yet here he was, trying to delay her meeting and ruin her encounter. That wasn't going to fly.

Her face brightened up. "Wait! Are you trying to like, ask me out or something?! That's super sweet, but I won't have celebration money until tonight when I get paid! I actually know a place we should meet up, if you'd like. Hold on, I'll write it down for you--"

He pursed his lips. "Hun, I got all the money we need right here. I also got plenty of good jobs even a pretty girl like you could pull off. If you want some work, that is. They ain't even time sensitive like that shtick. You ask me? I say the whole meeting thing's a waste. C'mon." His tail swayed lightly, bright red stinger playing a game of peek-a-boo from behind his head. A reminder.

She could do that too. She was certain to be late with this fucking clown wasting her time, pretending he was even worth talking to her. Her tail swayed to match his, rhythmic and slow, and started to build its charge as her anger and fear mixed into something tangible. It was getting harder and harder to escape his pace of conversation. Always some sort of reason to shatter her need to do something else. With every moment she kept engaging, he seemed to dig his roots deeper.

But time. She needed to buy time.

She grimaced and looked alarmed. "What?! I wouldn't dream of wasting your money! I couldn't do that! That's entirely against my moral code, and I wouldn't break that for anyone. I'm sorry! I just… I can't. I'd feel so bad!"

"Is it really a waste if I wanted to spend it and if you enjoyed it? Come now."

"Of course it is! Because shouldn't you only spend money on yourself?"

"Seein a lovely lil face like yours light up is plenty for myself, hun."

She wanted to retch. She was almost ready though. Almost.

Anana smiled and clapped her hands over her mouth briefly, and then laughed. "Oh my goodness, well when you put it that way! I guess I should dial the guy I'm supposed to meet and ask if we can just do it another time, then." She turned around and reached into her bag for her compact, making sure her tail was facing him. As she grabbed the device, her fur prickled all over.

Almost time.

"Darlin, I don't think even that's necessary."

She heard him step forward again, heard the grin. He was reaching forward, and she would have no part of that. No physical contact. Who even knew what magic he was working into the conversation? And who knew what would happen if he touched her?

Really, who knew?

So, no. None of that.

She allowed herself a grin. He couldn't see it anyway, so he wouldn't know. It was a real grin, a true grin. The type of fanged smile that only overcame her when bad apples got what was coming to them. Silly, silly apples.

Her tail arched back toward her body momentarily, and then shot backwards, striking him before he could react. The charge hadn't built for nearly as long as she would've liked, but that was the danger of being caught unexpectedly. Though the spark was still a decent size, that was only because he had managed to spook and rile her so thoroughly in such a short amount of time. It was quite the feat. Everything about this guy set off danger alarms.

She bolted. She didn't look back and make sure he was down, though she didn't need to; he fell to the sand with an audible thump. It was really his fault for assuming she was purely a stupid flowercat, anyway. Her own manticore side was well-hidden, up to the stinger. No one ever guessed, which was just perfect for her. He probably wouldn't even realize she'd done anything, and would awake later in a daze. The electric jolt often left the victim confused about what happened.

The adrenaline rush finally slowed down as she closed the gap between herself and the dock at which she'd meet the other event leader She felt as triumphant as she felt scared and upset. She crouched and hugged her knees at the boat's entrance behind a pillar, facing outward toward the sea. She needed a moment to catch her breath, to relax. No one needed to see her like this. No one needed to see anything that wasn't curated. Where earlier she was upset no one came to her rescue, now she was relieved to be in an empty corner of the beach on an equally empty dock.

The tears welled up a little in her eyes as she sat, watching the waves. The inside of her body was static, messy, frantic; it was somewhat disorienting to watch the ocean in all its calm serenity, and she thought that perhaps a storm would have been a little more mood-appropriate.

Regardless, she knew the frenzy would be gone soon and that she would be ready to resume her role in the plan she and Papaya had formulated together.

Just...why couldn't she choose when she was invisible?

Suddenly, a voice from above startled Anana out of her little trance. "Oi. You the flowercat I'm waitin for? Where you been?"

Not any voice; a familiar voice.

She looked up and saw a sea dragon's head poking out of the boat window directly above her. Her break was over.

"Sorry about that! I'll be right up."