Description: Two friends who met in Metro City bump into each other again on the opposite coast. Something's up in Sunshine, but Clio and Meifeng each have different reasons for finding out what that 'something' is...
The passage of time ushers away the last vibrant swath of natural sunlight, welcoming the rust-hued skyglow of Sunshine City. Silhouettes of darkened buildings, pockmarked with pinpricks of light, claim dominion over the horizon. Smokestacks to the north and south belch out their respective contributions to the air quality report, their presence marked by a dull, ever-present roar.
Meifeng wrinkles her nose as the sights of sounds of the city freeway whip past. The city itself is an offensive assault on the tigress' delicate senses, a callous representation of the worst that humanity can offer. In many places, she would be content to let her fur fly freely in the breeze. Here, and now, atop a hydrogen-powered sport bike, vinyl leathers and a helmet keep all but her face and tail from exposure to the foul air. Orange and black spots blur in her wake as the NOL lieutenant speeds past carved rock faces, past oil wells spinning languidly in the night, past garishly lit billboards and less-garish street lights.
It's easy to remain distant and detached. But as the tigress leans to the right, swaying to take the off-ramp, she lets out a brief sigh as the mission objectives rings clearly in her mind.
Slitted eyes open wider behind their amber lenses, as she begins to take in more detail of her surroundings. Vagrants, spotted here and there -- not criminals, not -exactly-, but points of interest. Dingy street benches, signage bleached from years of neglect. All details that slip into her purview, sorted and prioritized for later.
The tigress wrinkles her nose again, as her motorcycle slows to a stop, on a four-lane street, with a street light glowing placid red. Vinyl squeaks and stretches as she extends her right leg down to the ground, the treads of her boots creaking as they grind into the pavement, as she takes a longer, more detailed assessment of her surroundings. Her fluffy tail swishes back and forth, enjoying its momentary respite from the directed wind currents.
And then... a faint, distant smile, for -- at least, at the moment -- she can pause to take a look. To Meifeng, every cloud has a silver lining. And every city has at least one oasis of good. Could this be Sunshine City's?
Sunshine City, a moniker both true and false. The dichotomy of a place that shows when the sun shines on the great and wealthy, it means long shadows for the forgotten to fall into. While Metro seems the first place for those who think of crime and grit, the sandy beaches of Sunshine have closets filled with bleached bones.
Which is why, for Clio St. Jeanne, the night is the most comfortable time to be outside. From where beach bonfires blaze like the oil well spires, to where the neon glow gleams off concrete and steel, life continues even when the sun goes down.
Where light does not exist, mankind will make their own.
The azure flame is just one color among many. And it is one that still burns within the former NOL Lieutenant. With investigations on the park back in Metro ongoing, Clio has made her way to the opposite coast. Her oversized sweatshirt is dark in the red lights of the streetlamps. It hangs far down. The heavy chain hanging from the collar around her neck, winds its way about her waist, and ends with a pseudo metal linked tail cinching the long sweatshirt around her waist. The mask she wears hides herself, showing only the broadly grinning teeth and red eyes of a Kaka Clan expression. Enchantments on it help with sight, and even more importantly, to cull the smog that clings to the city like a suffocating blanket.
Poor and worn as it is, the inner city is a bastion for good souls. One she's found comfort in. But she has also found threads in the darkness. Threatening tendrils coiling. Something that she suspects isn't catching the eye of most, but it hasn't escaped hers. She may be on the run from the Librarium, but in the depths of her heart, the azure flame still burns.
From within its carbon-fiber prison, Meifeng's ear swivels towards a familiar mask. It doesn't help hear any better over the din of a starting-line full of badly tuned engines, but it's the thought that counts.
"Mm." The faint smile grows.
The right turn signal begins to click. And when the streetlight turns green, Lt Yao quietly begins steering her bike over to the right, pacing her rightward motion through traffic as politely as possible.
Moments later, the bike's tires scrub against the curb nearest Clio, the bike edged up off the street. Springs groan as the kickstand is lowered into position. The lieutenant doffs her helmet, tucking it under one arm. She spares a brief moment to wrangle her hair into order, and then fidgets with a device on the handlebar.
And then she begins walking over to Clio, armored with her form-fitting synthetic leather, and armed with two potent weapons: a purposeful stride, and a confident smile.
"Hey, Clio," she starts with a wave, once close enough that she need not shout the name for all to hear. "Quite a surprise seeing you here." A brief pause, punctuated by the swish of her orange and black tail. Her excessively formal accent shows a bit more as she continues: "Presuming I have not erred, at least. I am Meifeng, we met back in Metro. Do you remember me?"
She hadn't been hiding. Another of the NOL arriving was something to expect. She lifts her head, the movement described more by the shifting in her hood before turning around to greet a tigress' confident smile with the false one of her mask. She stands for a moment, just looking at the tall officer in her biking leathers. "I do," she answers after a pregnant pause.
She reaches up to remove the mask after she has had a moment to comport herself in the wake of immediate fluster. The hood falling back and the woman shown for who she is. "Are we about to fight again?" she questions. But she shakes her head with a moment of thought. "Probably not if you're approaching me and calling me by my first name." She tilts her head.
She looks away, out at nothing, just to avoid staring too much. "Surprise seeing you around here, too. Izzit a good one, or a bad one?"
Meifeng fills the momentary silence with a few hopeful blinks, and a subconscious shifting of her weight from one boot to the other. There can be any number of reasons for the delay; her exposition would only have covered the case in which Clio had forgotten. And that case is eliminated when Clio speaks -- moreso when the fight is brought back up. Both earn an appropriate uptick in the tigress' smile.
Perceptive though she may be in other realms, Meifeng does not quite catch the reason for the flustering. Nor does she give much thought to how her current attire might be related -- if even at all. She does, however, take quiet note of the way the hood falls back and away, her cheeks warming at the sight.
"Oh... I had not planned on one, but I have some free time if you would like to."
The tigress smiles back hopefully. Though when Clio looks to the side, Meifeng is quick to spare a glance in that direction as well. Only to be reassured that nothing seems to be awry.
"A good one or a bad one," she repeats, centering her gaze on Clio's eyes once more. She hesitates a moment, then answers, "Oh! A good one, this time!" She shifts her weight, resting her palms upon her hips. "As far as I know there have been no outstanding Azure-related events here in some time. I am off-duty at the moment -- just finding my way about the area."
She pivots, sparing a glance towards her parked street bike. It looks to be an entry model, but the fiberglass fairings are brand-new, fresh off the showroom floor. It also has a synthetic Azure signature, as opposed to the standard baseline for Sunshine City.
"Is this a good place to catch up? The bike comes with a security system, but I would hate for anyone to get hurt by it..." She turns back to Clio with an amiable grin.
The bike's mention draws Clio's attention. She leans far to one leg, looking past toward the bike. A sudden strike of Envy hits the woman and she sucks on her lower lip when she rights herself to look back at Meifeng. "They didn't give me a bike like that. They giving bikes now?" she asks. A hand going up, a deep stabilizing breath, "It's okay, it's okay. I can live with that."
The next breath, just as deep and heaving as before, causes her to rock back and forth on her heels. "It'll be fine here. People will be. It's worn down, but the neighborhood is a good one. Good people. I've been around here for a few weeks now," she explains. "Needed to get out of town when there were more of you guys poking at the Park. I don't exactly want to be risen from the dead just yet."
She laughs to herself, "As if they don't already know. Maybe I'm just kidding myself that I'd be anything to chase down." Turning, she points out toward a tall building that she had been watching before Meifeng showed up. "I've been watching that place. What've you been up to?"
Meifeng blinks awkwardly for a moment. They? "... Oh, my apologies! No, no, it is not mine, per se. I offered to take it out for a test drive for the R&D labs." She smiles brightly, hoping that the deep breaths aren't indicative of a more pressing health need -- and grateful that they do not appear to be.
"Ahh, good. I suspect you have already located the most delectable eateries around." While she had refrained from teasing up until now, the shorter woman's curious expressions seem to be stirring up some 'bad habits' in the lieutenant. "I am glad, in all honesty. Trust goes a long way in this day and age. It is hard to get a good night's sleep without it."
The tiger's expression turns downward when the survey crew is mentioned. "Ahh... yes. I had hoped their surveys would not be too intrusive. I am glad you were able to mitigate those risks, though!" She starts to reach for one of her pockets, but decides against consulting her phone after all. "... Mm," she continues, after a moment of thought: "... If I might suggest an alternative explanation?" She grins, maybe a little too much. "Perhaps it is that they see you as doing more help than harm."
The officer slowly turns towards the building, once mentioned. As before, she grimaces in thought... but stows that thought for later. "Ahh... the 'same old, same old', you know." She coughs lightly, into a raised fist. "Training new recruits, combat drills... important, to be sure, but I am enjoying the break in routine." She laughs softly. "And the sightseeing."
She casts a sideways glance at Clio. With her enthusiasm dialed back considerably, she asks, "Is there something interesting there? Perhaps we could ride past for a closer look..."
"I know some. Why you asking? Want a date?" Clio asks, her teeth vibrating as the words come out. She quickly recovers from that overshare with overcompensation. "You're a tiger, I'm more like some kinda rat or shrew. Takes a lot to keep the fire lit." It isn't that wrong of a statement, she's always had an appetite, and the sparking chi within her never did seem to die down. Even now, the faint shine of eldritch light behind the sigils marking her chain is visible and threatening to flare up in the moment.
"But I think the Librarium isn't one to look kindly on desertion," she maintains, finding what she suspects is a better way of masking her interest. "Even if I am here doing their job for them."
She nods out to that building. "Something out there, out in the city, has an arcane stink to it. It's dark stuff, angry stuff. The kind of ritual that pulls at seithr for worse ends than it already has. I've been trying to figure it out since I got here." She huffs with false indignity. "I was looking to escape things, not fall back into the line of work."
She looks back toward the bike. "And I'd usually leave the Librarium out of this, but if you're off duty, and you're making an offer. . ." She bites her lip and fakes a deep sigh and resignation, "I suppose I could go with you to get a closer look."
Meifeng's eyes widened at the implication of a date. "I--" she starts, her mouth hanging open. There were -many- ways to take the word 'date' in this instance, but all of them left her speechless. Only when Clio began to speak does she remember to close her mouth. And even then, all she could muster was a "Mmmrmmmm..." in lieu of a more intelligible response.
She scratches her chin, lost in thought -- and happy to have something more in her wheelhouse to contemplate. "I would not hazard to guess the motivations of the Duodecim. I was not specifically apprised of this building in particular, but if it has an arcane signature, it could be worth notice."
Sensing Clio's hesitation -- and now, with that 'date' suggestion firmly implanted in the back of her mind, she quirks an ear in the shorter woman's direction. "Only if.. you feel it would help you. I do not want to pose an inconvenience." Her tail whisks softly back and forth as a hint of playfulness twinkles in her eyes.
"The bike goes fast but I am not sure how comfortable it would be for you."
A second beat.
"The wind can be bracing if you are not prepared for it."
Oh crap. . . Clio is less than sure how to take the unintelligible murmuring of the tigress. She can already feel the redness creeping up her neck and into her face at how dumb she was at overplaying. She cursed herself for foolishness. She was so, so far out of that particular game that she hardly knew what to say at times like this. She could make fun with people, but earnest truth was always far, far more awkward.
Thankfully, Meifeng saves the day with matters of crime and magic. The talk also allows her a moment to put on her face mask and pull her hood up. "I think it would help out a lot. I'm sure that bike is comfortable."
The red eyes direct themselves at Meifeng, pinpoints that hide Clio's actual look to the woman offering the ride. "I'm pretty sure if I hold on tight you'll be comfortable enough."
Not a few moments out from speaking and Clio's already wondering if she could hang herself with her own chain right here and now.
Meifeng smiles as Clio deflects the surface concerns. The followup, though, seems to be a remark of an entirely different flavor; the tigress covers her mouth with a hand, drawing in her own breath. Teasing a junior is one thing. And even though she has only a vague idea of the direction the conversation is headed, it still feels like teasing. One way or the other.
And, as per her usual M.O., Meifeng defaults to shy deference.
Clearing her throat, the tigress asks, "Well, I am not busy tonight. If you would like to go later, I can come back? It might be good to go before it gets too late though. And then perhaps we can... stop for something to eat?"
Clio looks focused on the bike and not the driver. She does so to avoid chastising herself for how much foot she's just put into her mouth in the last moment. She tries to consider a way out of things. She tries to think on an escape. But she cannot see a way out. She cannot see a way she should bolt toward.
"I think that sounds like a good plan, Lieutenant," Clio states. "Why don't you show me what R and D have been cooking up? And I can show you a lead on what I think is happening around here."
Meifeng smiles, her awkwardness fading for the moment as she focuses on her mission. She extends the helmet as an offer to Clio: "Erm... I had not thought in advance to requisition a second helmet, but I know you are taking a big risk getting on a vehicle with someone you barely know, so you are welcome to it if you like." Self-consciously, she runs fingers through her hair -- there wasn't a good opportunity for her to pin her hair up, so her mane is more wild and unkempt than usual.
Once the decision is made, she strides back to her bike. And now with Clio's... admission in mind, she becomes even more self-conscious about each squeak and tug made by her riding leathers. She keeps her stripes face pointed towards the bike for the meantime, while her tail continues sweeping back and forth in wide, undulating motions.
With one glance back to Clio, she grins. Academy topics alleviate her anxiety. The seithr pressure around the bike is considerable -- but it falls down to nothing once Meifeng reaches her hand close, twiddling her fingers. "Once armed, the system seeks out only one particular signature -- mine in this case -- and projects a resistance field if not found. It is rather simplistic in that regard."
Grabbing hold of the handlebar, she kicks the kickstand up, and swings her leg over top. "Go ahead and hop on?" The tall tigress has never really... -worried- about the difficulties inherent in climbing on a motorcycle as a passenger. Let alone a shorter one. But she does offer her hand in assistance.
Clio's fingers press back against the helmet, pushing it back toward Meifeng. "I think you should keep your helmet. I know what the hood looks like but I don't actually have ears like yours." She laughs, the gesture is kind. "Besides," Clio adds," I think I've taken my share of big hits to the head over the years."
She tries to keep herself to an amble while Meifeng talks about the bike signature. It causes her to think aloud. "So we're good so long as you're on the bike. Got it. I'll avoid stealing it in the future then."
It's the hand that takes her aback. She could hop onto the back herself. It wouldn't be too hard, she estimates. But with the offer. . .she takes the hand for leverage, pulling herself over the back of the motorcycle and close in to Meifeng. Very close, Clio notes. "You okay if I hold on?" she asks, finding the words just tumbling out of her.
The orange-striped officer nods. "The ears -are- a good look," she notes with a grin, and a quick flick of her left ear. "But I am, of course, biased." She pulls the helmet on, strapping it into place; a few locks of her mane tumble loose as she pulls her hands away. "I will refrain from excessively reckless driving, all the same." No sense in adding another bump or tumble to the list.
The thought of Clio stealing the bike immediately after discussion of its security system causes the tigress to tap the side of her helmet. "Ah, I see... just out of curiosity, is there anything /else/ of mine you had planned to steal?" She nearly laughs at the end, but is able to hold her tongue for the moment.
Meifeng pulls her tail around to the opposite side, to keep it from being sat upon or otherwise, as Clio climbs onto the bike. Her hand is firm, her grip loose and non-imposing. "Oh, of course!" she answers, in response to the query. There aren't any good handholds on the motorbike's exterior, so there aren't many alternatives to just holding on. And when Clio does so, she'd likely remember that the tiger lady's a lot tougher than she looks at first glance. Particularly when the fur is tightly wrapped in leather.
The lieutenant steadies her bike, stretching her toes out to keep the bike balanced. She nudges one mirror with her thumb, angling it so that, if she tilts her head just so, she can look right back at Clio. "It may not be as loud as you may have expected," she cautions. A moment later, her thumb jabs the starter -- and just like that, the bike starts purring like a kitten. Well, a loud kitten. But still quiet by motorbike standards, as the NOL R&D design is -quite- efficient on its fuel consumption.
"Okay! Can you point us towards the best path to the building?"
Red faced behind a grinning mask, Clio St. Jeanne finds herself in a close position sat behind the NOL officer on her bike. Still, she has a few pangs of jealousy that she never got a bike in her time among the Librarium. She would've liked one. Even if much of her traversal was easily handled through manipulating her chain and keeping to various roof tops to avoid traffic. It was a matter of principle that she should enjoy a motorcycle now and again.
But now she can. And she's doing it with an ostensible enemy. Clio closes her eyes and reminds herself that, ultimately, a lot of the people she's met from the Librarium have been decent sorts. It's just that they're all working for people she can't stomach any longer. Some of them, they're still friends. Still people worth being friendly with. Warm people. People she can hold onto.
People asking for her to do so.
She does, and a deep breath becomes apparent when she sidles up and grips about Meifeng's waist. "Don't," she starts, stops, "Don't hold back on my account. I've taken worse hits. Drive recklessly!"
There's a laugh in her voice. Clio's never been one to avoid some pains. And this one is one she'd not mind in the least.
"Hit the ring road. Show me how fast this thing can go. Then. Then maybe I'll let you know where that building is."
Meifeng taps her helmet -- and then reaches into a small compartment behind the front windscreen. There, she plucks out a small earpiece with a boom mic, and hands it back to Clio. No helmet, maybe, but the bike comes prepared for the eventuality of passengers all the same.
As part of her job duties, Lieutenant Yao prefers to err on the safe side. "Chance favors the prepared mind," after all. That explains why she's here to begin with -- to perform reconnaissance prior to the official start of her mission. The ends are justifiable to her: to increase operational awareness. That she's riding with a known "fugitive" onboard is a moot point for that greater goal, as far as she's concerned.
"Roger that," she comments. Her smile reflects back towards Clio, as she tentatively rolls the bike forward. Meifeng teases out a rumble from the engine, rolling the bike off the curb. Everything's according to plan -- Meifeng's a careful driver -- as she edges the bike onto the street.
Three seconds of driving. Mirrors are checked. Traffic is clear. And for a moment, it looks like she's going to continue to be that same good driver.
And then she guns the throttle.
The front wheel lifts off the ground.
And the bike tears out of there at well over the posted speed limit.
It's a good few seconds before gravity pulls the front wheel back.
The bike's got some horsepower after all. Clio might just feel the laughter resonating through Meifeng's body, as she blasts through the streets with ease, working her way back towards the nearest on-ramp.
After a few moments at a steady velocity, she calls back over the headset: "I am hoping you can consider giving me five stars in the app. It would truly help me out."
Log created on 14:46:30 01/02/2023 by Meifeng, and last modified on 19:13:41 01/11/2023.