Tonglen Bathhouse

Situated somewhat apart from the busy streets of the Beach District is a tall, stately building of red shingles and panelled wood. While its size alone isn't enough to set it apart, its old-style Electopian architecture is quite eye-catching. The inn is regularly praised for its comfortable rooms and excellent cuisine, but its true pride lies in the baths that open in the evening. Often lauded as a "memory of Old Electopia", the relaxing atmosphere and polite service have made it quite popular with visitors from all over.

However, the establishment's true speciality is something else entirely, although this fact is kept with the utmost secrecy by employees and clients alike. Word is that Tonglen keeps in its employ a group specializing in finding things, no matter where they are or, in fact, whether someone else is already in possession. While the frequently illicit nature of this work keeps the circle of trust small by necessity, someone who makes a request through the right channels might just be able to enlist their services.


Iris slipped through the back entrance, a sudden draft of curry-scented hot air blowing her hair back and driving the chill from her hands and face. The kitchen was as crowded as could be expected at this time of day, with the executive chef watching over the proceedings like a great bronze statue. He caught Iris' eye with a nod as she passed.

"Good afternoon, Jacob." Iris greeted him with a weary nod, feeling quite worn out now that the stress and excitement of the morning's phone call had shrunk to just a dull, grating sense of menace.

"Made a day of it, huh? You've got the evening off, but I'm afraid I have some news first." He slid with practiced grace through the crush of bodies running about to prepare their various dishes, Iris following behind impatiently.

"Don't these things usually take days?" She began, her mask of calm somewhat upset by the intense look in her eyes.

Jacob shrugged his vast shoulders. "That's if I can even load the backup to start checking. Your girl's file... It just wouldn't read as anything but junk. I tried everything I knew." Iris felt the mask starting to slip; 'everything Jacob knew' was a very long list. He continued: "Whatever's holding her together, it isn't in any backup. I guess it's a good thing she -- "

Iris lunged forward, her eyes blazing. "So that's it!? I just sit and watch as she slowly eats herself!?"

Jacob simply tilted his head. "This is where the news gets a little better, mon ami... You know what doesn't get stored in a navi's backup? A program core. You'd have to get one by official channels, of course... Mama-ji doesn't exactly approve of us taking overtime... But even an SP core might work." He folded his arms with a decisive nod.

"... Right. We'll go to the GNA once Chess is done running around." Iris felt herself starting to sag once more as she crossed to the stairway. Once she'd checked on her sister, she was going to take a long bath. "Thank you for going to all this trouble... I wouldn't know where to start on this if it were just me."

"Hey. You know what'd happen to this place if it weren't for you two? I don't even wanna think about it." The two exchanged a quick smile before Iris slipped through the doorway and back to her room.
Iris' bedchamber was a simple affair, spacious but simply furnished. A bed, a desk, and a chair were all that stood in the main room, leaving it feeling quite austere, but also somewhat empty.

Separated from the rest of the room by a simple sliding door, the bathroom was another matter entirely. Thick drifts of steam filled the room, originating from the great round tub that dominated the room. Shelves of bottles lined the walls: Oils, salts, perfumes, gifts from the owner or Iris' own acquisitions. There was no shortage of such things in the bathhouse.

A second figure flickered into existence beside Iris as she luxuriated in the warm water. She sat back casually, as if she was simply meant to be there... And you might have believed that, too, if not for the short black dress she wore or the way her image didn't seem to disturb the water at all.

"Are you gonna just sit there all evening? You'll have to at least move your hands if we're gonna bust." With a lazy stretch, Cheshire's hologram scooted closer. "And don't worry, yeah? I can handle myself."

Iris heaved a sigh. "Sister... You've been acting strange lately. These last few navis you've met... Not too long ago, you'd have attacked once you had their confidence and made a meal of them. What's different now?"

Cheshire leaned in closer. While she'd tried to paste a smile to her face, her eyes betrayed her true feelings. "And is that all you think I can do? Kill and eat?" Her voice was a low growl, hesitating only a second before she continued. ""... I know that I'm not going to be around for a whole lot longer. Maybe I just want to leave something behind besides legends and ghost stories, huh? Maybe I'm done hiding like this, waiting for the ball to drop!"

Despite being quite intangible, Cheshire found herself tumbling back as Iris leapt to her feet, her eyes blazing, the warm water of the bath splashing out over the rough tiles. Her long black hair danced like a flame before falling back and clinging wetly to the intricate tattoo that covered her bare skin from the nape of her neck to her calves.

"We do not hide," Iris spat. "We wait, and we search. One day we will find him, and kill him, and found the family anew." Standing over her, wreathed in ink and steam, her eyes wild... Cheshire shivered.

"Be that as it may..." the navi began, her voice even. "I'd rather not die as a beast." She slowly climbed to her feet, standing toe-to-toe with her operator. "You and Jacob can look for a way out, but I have to plan too. I've died and come back enough times to know my luck can't hold out forever."

"Sister..." Iris faltered. Without warning she leaned in and wrapped her arms around the navi's image. Cheshire's arms soon followed, completing an embrace neither of them could feel. "We will find a way out. Trust in Jacob, and in me." She pulled back, finding the balance was a little awkward when you were trying to hug an intangible. A soft smile spread across her face. "... You don't know how happy I am to hear that you're not going to eat any more navis. It... Wasn't pleasant to watch."

She sat back on the tub's wide rim, flipping her hair over one shoulder. Might as well avoid getting the floor any wetter than she already had. The PET resting beside her, thankfully, had escaped most of the earlier downpour. "Now... You have an appointment to keep, don't you? These coordinates aren't too far." She did her best to suppress a shiver; she could feel her skin pebbling as the water coating her skin began to cool and evaporate. With a few short taps on the main screen, a holographic keypad spread out beside the device, prompting a satisfied nod from Iris.

"... R-right. I'm ready to go." The image shimmered, then vanished, although her voice continued from the PET's speaker. "Sister... Thank you. I know you can do it." She cut the conversation there, a short chime from the device signalling that the transmission was a success.

Iris sighed, and slid back into the exquisitely warm water. If it really came down to it, would she rather save Cheshire, or kill the man who done them so much harm?

... She silently prayed that she wouldn't need to decide.

Dharma stepped towards the red-tiled building with a quaint smile, taking in the features of another business that, while more impressive in scope than Alexis' had been, still wasn't nearly as impressive as her own skyscraper. Furthermore, this was probably some of the only property that the business owner possessed; she had several locations, not to mention plants, all across the globe! "It's nice to indulge myself like this every now and again. It's also downright philanthropic for me to give little mom and pop places like this my charity," she thought to herself with a widening smirk, deriving far too much pleasure from mentally appraising her own inherited business against a bathhouse.

"Okay, time to turn the smirk off," she reminded herself, settling her lips back into a small smile, although failing to fix the demeaning tilt of her eyebrows, which always seemed to question as to whether the person to which she was speaking was born stupid or hit their head on something to become that way. "I wonder who that cat's operator is in here, anyways? I have almost no information to go off of other than the card giving the location," she realized, pulling back out the card to check it again.

The shoulders of her jet-black labcoat lifted in a small shrug as she entered the establishment. "Excuse me; I'm Dharma Heart-Payne, president of Heart-Payne Pharmaceuticals Incorporated," she introduced immediately upon reaching the first area that seemed to be a customer service desk to her. "A navi, named Cheshire, presented my navi this card and promised that I would be allowed into a bath here. Is there any such arrangement awaiting me?" the president inquired, lifting her eyebrows and showing her misleading blue eyes in a display of feigned politeness.
Up in Iris' room, there came a polite knocking at the door. The woman rose from her seat, drawing her robe closer around herself. She stepped aside quickly as she opened the door to admit her caller: a lavishly-dressed Yumlandian woman, austere and beautiful despite the age showing in her face.

"Mama-ji. How unexpected." Iris gave the woman a deep bow, closing the door silently behind her.

The woman answered with a respectful bob of her head. "Good evening, Iris. I hope I'm not interrupting anything important." She cast her eyes toward the PET on the desk and the chips neatly arranged at its side, calmly seating herself on the bed. Iris simply watched her employer, offering no reply.

Mama-ji simply laughed, deeply and richly. "Alright, alright. I should know better than try to have any kind of small talk with you. I came here to give you some news." She patiently smoothed the clothes on her lap, pretending not to see the way Iris visibly tensed at the word. "Nothing like that, dear. Just a bookkeeping error. It looks as if everyone forgot that a fairly prestigious customer was visiting us tonight. gratis." Her faint smile played at the corners of her mouth, but if she did suspect anything she did nothing else to betray the fact. "You were scheduled to act as her attendant, as well. Dharma Heart-Payne is a woman of great sway in the business world, but a bit of rarity. I trust you will make her visit pleasant enough that she might care to return?"

Again she pretended not to notice Iris' reaction to the woman's name. A less observant person might have fallen for the guarded woman's facade completely, but for her employer watchfulness was an absolute necessity. She rose with an apologetic bow. "I'm sorry to give this to you on such short notice. I'll see that we make it up to you later." She crossed the room, pausing briefly as she reached for the door. "Oh, and give my best to Cheshire. Tell her I was very impressed." The woman slipped out without a further word, leaving Iris to prepare for work.

"I'll kill that girl," she growled, tossing the robe aside and stepping toward the closet.


"A p-pleasure to have you join us, Ms. Heart-Payne!" the man at the front desk stammered, his unease apparent despite his wide, friendly grin. This was something of a perfect storm for him; the sudden reservation was already something of a troubling mystery, and hearing that navi was somehow involved could only make things worse... and besides all that, there was something frightening about the black-clad woman, no matter how politely she introduced herself. Whatever business instincts he had developed as a mid-level administrator were telling him in plain terms to get as far away from this CEO as he could, and fast.

"We have your registra -- reservation right here! The eastern VIP room, is it? An excellent choice, ma'am, ha ha! An attendant should be along shortly to -- "

"Sorry if I kept you waiting." Iris cut off the man's panicked stream of niceties, standing in the doorway as if she had been there all along. Her dress was somewhat unusual for bathhouse staff -- rather than the long kimono worn by the female attendants, her uniform was a lighter kimono with formal hakama. She stepped easily between Dharma and the clerk, offering her guest a bright smile and a bow. "Ms. Heart-Payne, is it? My name is Iris Kodai, and I'll be your attendant this evening. We have your bath prepared, if you could please follow me..." She took a few steps toward the door, ready to lead on toward the room Dharma had "reserved". She gave no outward indication that she recognized her recent busting partner -- the woman's cheerful and welcoming demeanour would also seem quite unfamiliar to someone who had only experienced her more reserved side.
Just as Dharma was about to gorge herself on suggesting as politely as possible that the front desk worker was making serious customer service faux pas, Iris swooped in to rescue the situation. The pharmaceutical company president kept her smile and dipped her eyebrows lower, scanning over her hostess for some easy vulnerabilities to grasp onto early. She quickly noticed that she couldn't find any... perhaps it was because Iris reminded her so much of herself? With that shining black hair, remarkably even and aesthetically pleasing face, and so on, it was hard not to draw the parallel. "Huh... maybe she's acting too? This graceful hostess personality is probably an act, just like mine," she reasoned.

"Of course, not like it matters regardless," she reminded herself, closing her eyes while her smile widened. "On the way from here to my private bath, I'm sure she's going to reveal what sets her miniscule, laborer's intelligence apart from my genius."

Dharma excused herself from the company of the front worker, then turned to follow Iris with a swish of her lengthy, dark hair. "Thank you, Ms. Kodai. It will be my pleasure," she replied, crossing her hands just below the small of her back as she walked. Her blue eyes darted with seeming enthusiasm around the bathhouse as she walked, implying curiosity when all that existed was baseless criticism.
"A-ah! Enjoy your stay, Ms. Heart-Payne!" called the clerk as the two women drew away from the front desk. He leaned forward and craned his neck around, carefully watching their shapes recede into the bathhouse proper. As they disappeared from sight, he sank back, heaving a deep sigh. Something about that Heart-Payne woman made him feel like an animal caught in a trap. He had had a long career, and understood more than most who worked there the importance of their customers... but all the same, something about that woman made him hope the next time she appeared was on someone else's shift.

Iris, thankfully, didn't share the same finely-tuned sense of public relations that had caused the clark so much dread. She led her guest toward the rear of the bathhouse at a calm pace, giving Dharma's roving eyes a chance to take in the atmosphere of the vast chamber, echoing with the faint ripple of water. "It was good to find you earlier. Cheshire seems... fond of your navi." She idly wondered whether Dharma had taken note of the same things she had; businesspeople as a whole struck Iris as neglectful and short-sighted; sometimes dangerously so. There was something about the way this one glanced around, though, that made her wonder if that was really the case here.

The two shortly drew near to the end of the hall, decorated with broad wooden panels bearing a vivid mural. The painted scene continued smoothly onto a sliding door on the far left, almost diminutive-looking due to the high ceiling. Still, as she slid it open it was plain there would be no need to duck to step inside. "This is your private bath. I can wait outside, if you'd prefer total privacy."
Dharma's high heels clapped against the floor of the bathhouse and her coat waved behind her, ensuring that she had the maximum presence of anyone in the hallways. Having no appreciation for art, she'd already stopped watching the continuous painting far before it was over. As she have listened to what the worker was saying to her, she realized with surprise that the one guiding her must be Cheshire's operator. Her mind whirred to speed as she came up with a convincing yarn to hide all of her ill feelings about Cheshire.

"Yes, Phero's taken quite a shine to yours as well! I suppose it's natural that they'd get along; Cheshire possesses such an energetic and vibrant personality."
"Your navi's promiscuous, lesbian behavior has fooled my incredibly gullible lab tool into thinking that she herself is an enamored lesbian."

"Did you base her personality off of someone else's? It's hard to imagine such a unique character arising from thin air!"
"Are you a raging lesbian too?"

"Regardless, I think that the relationship the two have is adorable to watch and a valuable experience for Phero, who's rarely been outside of the lab."
"I think the relationship between the two is sickening to watch, but probably useful worldly experience for Phero, who has never been outside of the lab."

"I wonder if there will be time in my busy schedule to ensure they can continue to meet and enjoy each other's company?"
"Valuable experience aside, there is no way I am letting Phero continue down the path of becoming a hardcore lesbian."

Finally, the two came to the bathhouse. Dharma had fully expected to have the whole bath to herself; she hadn't let anyone else see her naked since some time in high school, after all. Still, didn't this sound a bit like a challenge? If she was going to keep up the public persona of liking people, she had to pretend to like their company too. "Oh, there's no need to be so formal! You can feel free to come in if you'd like to chat," she offered.
Iris was a little taken aback by the sudden stream of enthusiastic compliments her guest had suddenly volunteered. There were many words she would use to describe Cheshire, but "adorable" wasn't particularly high on her list. She could only assume that the side-effects of the field testing hadn't exactly left a glowing impression on the corporate president. Still -- the most important policy when dealing with these sorts of high-profile clients was to never let them know more than they expected to find out. This included letting them know you knew or suspected things they didn't expect you to. So she simple responded with a pleasant smile, despite the feeling nagging at the back of her head.

"We keep quite busy ourselves, I'm afraid. I'm sure both Cheshire and Phero would appreciate it if we did manage to arrange something, though -- even if it was simply for the purposes of more clinical testing." The testing itself was the subject of more than a little curiosity for her, but she suspected that asking directly wasn't going to get her very far. She stepped into the private room without pressing the issue further, beckoning Dharma to follow.

A bath had already been drawn in the cozy room, with a thin veil of steam already forming to obscure the ceiling. The wall furthest from the bath was lined with shelves holding a variety of supplies for teamaking, and others set aside to hold clothes and towels. Set off in a corner was a smaller basin holding both a faucet and a showerhead, with a washbucket nearby for true traditionalists.

"You may disrobe and bathe at your leisure. I will remain at hand should you need anything." Iris stepped aside and took position in front of the shelves, seeming suddenly very interested in the teapots and jaws of loose leaves collected there. It seemed to be a courtesy for those who might rather not have others watch them undress.

"Thank you for being so forthcoming! I'm glad to hear that the two of you will be available for future tests, if the need arises," Dharma beamed, clapping together both hands at her chest. In actuality, it was something she was pleased to hear, although not nearly as innocently as she let on. To her, that just meant that the carrot and stick was still working for a little while longer, at least.

As the two girls entered the room, Dharma pulled the neck of her shirt away from her body slightly. The heat had bothered her back out there on Beach Street; she'd called it a sauna at the time. If Beach Street were a sauna, however, the spa could be described as the sun itself. "How do customers put up with such heat? I should complain!" she thought, her eyebrows lowering slightly as her dissatisfaction rose. Of course, it would only be natural that she'd find it a bit feverish and stuffy, given that she was dressed entirely in formal, dark clothing with a pitch-black labcoat over it all.

"Ah, well then," she murmured, turning around again self-consciously to make certain that Iris was as taken with the items as she seemed to be. As she turned her head again, she allowed her smile to fade slightly for the first time since she'd entered the bathhouse. She spotted a bath and a shower... bathhouses had showers? Who would want a shower when they came for a bath? "Nonsense," she thought to herself. "Then again, I'd ordinarily take a quick shower, but I did come here for a bath..."

Her eyes darted around again for some sort of curtain or changing room. There was none, of course, so she was just going to have to take Dharma for her word. "What if there are cameras?" she thought to herself suspiciously, taking quick inventory of every corner of the ceiling. "Who wouldn't pay out the ass to see the great president of Heart Payne Pharmaceuticals Incorporated, bearing it all without a care in the world? I could have walked right into a trap without thinking about it! But... I'm too far in to back out now."

Slowly, she shrugged off her labcoat, leaving it on a wooden coat-hanger near the door. Her tie came next, then her high-heeled shoes. Sometimes, she forgot just how much clothing she wore... For this reason, she had to alot a great portion of time to preparation every morning before she went out. She realized that once she got out of the bath, she would have to reapply her makeup... Silently, the president thought that she might be able to raise Iris to a slightly higher level of esteem if it turned out there was makeup waiting for her after the bath.

Dharma removed her belt next, setting it with the tie. With all of the non-essentials out of the way, she cast another glance over her back, just to make certain Iris was still keeping her half of the deal. Once her privacy was reaffirmed, the president unbuttoned her well-tailored slacks, then edged them slowly down her hips. She would never allow herself to do anything as graceless as shaking a leg out, so she braced herself against the wall with one hand, then finished the removal. Her long shirt continued providing her a bit of modesty as she tried to determine what to do with the pants.

"Excuse me, Madam! Do you perhaps have a hangar for my slacks?" she asked, unable to imagine the indignity of folding the slacks and shoving them in some cubicle, or worse, dropping them on the floor.
Iris remained respectfully distant, and totally ignorant of the personal crisis Dharma had wrapped herself up in. Had she known, she might have felt a bit affronted -- an establishment like hers, committing petty voyeurism? She wouldn't say that everything at Tonglen was strictly straight and narrow, but they had much bigger things to concern themselves with.

Of course, all that reached Iris as she inspected the rows of towels and tea leaves was the faint rustle of cloth. Nothing about this situation was new to her -- a businessperson's suit was their armour, more or less. Few were even comfortable enough to allow her into the room until they had already settled into the water, and only then when they decided they could use some refreshments of conversation. She felt she'd come to develop a sense for the character of those she attended to, and while she was almost definitely as deceptive as any others, Iris found herself a little impressed with her confidence.

As luck would have it, hangers were one of the supplies stocked on the shelves she had kept such attentive stock of while her client changed. She glided over with one in hand, smoothly taking them from Dharma's hands and hanging them smoothly. She seemed more or less unmoved by the half-dressed woman's figure -- it appeared Dharma's earlier suspicions were unfounded.

"I have to admit," she began in a conversational tone, "I hadn't expected to find the president of a company running field trials. It must be a matter of great importance for Heart-Payne Pharmaceuticals." The pants were hung next to Dharma's coat. Iris remained nearby for the sake of conversation, no longer staring conspicuously at the shelves, but all the same making it quite clear through position and body language that the sight of Dharma undressing was not one of her pressing interests. "Naturally, I'm not going to ask you for company secrets... But all the same, I hope the results have been promising so far."
"She's... looking right at me! While I'm pantsless!" Dharma thought to herself; the shock registered on her face for just a moment as a dumbfounded stare. "Yes, the results of the tests have all been very... good," she spat out, crossing both arms across her chest and plastering her smile back on. "I feel like I'm moving a little closer towards my goal. That goal, of course, is classified."

"Look the other way," she mentally commanded Iris, her eyebrows tensing with exertion as she tried to use some sort of psychic power to make her attendant follow her commands. She absolutely couldn't ask Iris to look the other way, but at the same time, she couldn't continue with Iris watching. Her slender, slightly pale legs shifted uncomfortably as she contemplated pulling her pants off the hangar and slipping back into them.

"That's a defeatist attitude! I came here to take a bath; a special privilege allowed to me as the president of a powerful pharmaceutical company! Why can't I just relax and enjoy an executive perk?" she thought to herself, unbuttoning her shirt quickly to avoid thinking about it. Finally, she pulled it away from her shoulders and threw it onto the floor in direct violation of her earlier rule with the pants. The action left her wearing only her black (but otherwise fairly plain) underwear and tall, black socks.

"... Nope, that's it," she thought to herself, realizing as she cupped both thumbs at the hook of her bra that there was no way she could go through with taking it off. "Say, Iris; why don't you tell me a little bit about those pots and leaves you were looking at earlier?" she inquired in a fake voice of control, already planning out how she could quickly dress back and then spit out some excuse to leave without bathing. She'd have come up with something classier than "pots and leaves," but she wasn't in her best state of mind. "She's not worthy of seeing a genius' body! Nobody is, really! This is why geniuses bathe in private, after all!"
"That's good to hear. I'm glad that Cheshire and I could be of help." Iris would have been hard-pressed to miss the shock and ensuing conflict on Dharma's face -- for someone whose stock in trade was observation, a moment's weakness was all that was needed. Perhaps her guest wasn't quite as comfortable around people as she'd thought at first. She wasn't one to judge, naturally; she wasn't one to place herself potentially at risk, either. Besides, her high-profile position likely carried its own laundry list of risks and liabilities.

Still, it would be a shame for Dharma to come all this way and have nothing to show for it. So Iris tried to be as patient and unobtrusive as she could. After all, Dharma had nothing to fear from her.

And, in a way, her efforts bore fruit -- although with the way Dharma flung the garment aside, Iris doubted that she'd quite work up the courage to bathe. She gathered the shirt from its place on the tiles without a word, folding it smoothly and placing it on a shelf near to her other items. When Dharma posed her question, she was secretly grateful; so far there hadn't been a whole lot of opportunities to make her visit the sort of thing she'd want to repeat.

"Oh, those?" She crossed toward the shelves. "Many guests enjoy a cup of tea during their stay. Would you like me to prepare a pot? We have a fairly wide variety, although we tend more toward green and herbal teas." She lifted a cylindrical electric kettle from the shelf and made her way toward the small sink set in the corner. "If you'd prefer not to bathe on this visit, the least we can do is get you something to drink, hm?"
"She understands my thoughts completely... Does she have experience dealing with geniuses? She herself could not be a genius... The odds of one genius encountering another genius at random are so astronomically low," Dharma thought to herself, biting at her long nails from irritable habit as Iris turned around for a moment. "Tea? You know, that sounds lovely! Let's put the bath on hold for a later time and sit down to drink," she chuckled in a hollow voice, slipping back on her garments with telling enthusiasm. Iris had thought that some people treated their suit as armor; she'd hit the nail right on the head where Dharma was concerned.

She'd managed to pull on her shirt, although it was only buttoned halfway, and was in the process of getting her pants up. She turned to move towards where her other items were waiting, jerking the pants on in spite of herself and hopping a bit. This proved to be a bad idea, because on the moist and slippery floor of the bathroom, she didn't have a lot of traction. Her face bent into a revelatory grimace as she grasped for something to hang onto to avoid falling.

Her hand at first brushed by the coat hangers on the wall, but missed. Still grasping, she fell towards Iris, still with a look of disgust at her situation. Her other hand left the hem of her pants and reached out for Iris' kimono; both tried to grab out and gain some sort of leverage against allowing the president to collide face-first with the floor, all in a split second since she'd taken that one hop.
Iris filled the small electric kettle and set it to boil off to the side, leaving Dharma a short while to dress in peace. "What would you prefer? If you have a favourite, we might have it here." She was more than prepared to make a recommendation, but it seemed almost a point of pride for CEOs and the like to have clearly-defined tastes in just about anything. Many of her clients would proudly recite the brand name, the steep time, and the country where it was grown as easily as their preference for milk or cream. "On the other hand, if you're curious, there are a few I can personally -- Ms. Heart-Payne!"

Iris' eyes flew wide as she caught sight of her client. She practically flew across the room to try and catch her, her arms catching the falling woman by the shoulders, heedless as her hands grabbed and pulled at the fold of her kimono. The smooth fabric slipped open, falling from Iris' shoulder and revealing a great deal more skin than the attendant had expected to show her client. The edges of an extensive horimono tattoo painted her skin from the shoulder down along the arm, and across the outer edge of her chest. The simple black pattern that surrounded the more colourful and intricate main body of the work flowed smoothly over the curve of her breast, peeking up from the simple white cup of the bra she wore.

It took Iris a few moments to register that anything had happened -- after all, Dharma's safety was a higher priority than her own dress. As the humid air settled over her newly-bare skin, her calm facade oh-so-briefly fell, plain shock and anxiety registering on the woman's face. She seemed younger, somehow, with her usual stoic expression temporarily absent.

Wardrobe malfunctions aside, though, she had a client to care for. She drew herself back up, helping Dharma to regain her balance (and hoping to herself that the surprise in her face could be passed off as a reaction to the president's brush with danger). "Are you alright, Ms. Heart-Payne?" She did her best to don her calm mask again, wishing all the while that Dharma would let her hand fall so that she could fix her kimono.
Dharma managed to get her smile back when she realized that she'd managed to upset her host. "Ho ho! Back on top," she reasoned to herself... she wasn't interested in the sort of thing, but she allowed her eyes to drift down on Iris' body. Rather than dwelling on the breasts, she was surprised to find that a far more intriguing trait had been revealed: a single, highly intricate horimono tattoo, seemingly covering her host's entire body. Of course, having no idea what a horimono tattoo indicated, Dharma simply smiled wider. "She's probably stuck in a servantile job like this because of that body ink! I know my HR department isn't going to look for anyone that's got a giant tramp-stamp covering her entire body," she chuckled inwardly.

The evil was now showing heavily on Dharma's face, which really made it seem like she'd stripped her host on purpose. She finally realized this and backed up, cleared her expression, and shared her partner's look of bewilderment and mild embarrassment. "I'm fine, really, it is I who should apologize! A businesswoman, tripping over her own slacks. I've really made a fool of myself," she sighed, turning her head in feigned embarrassment while drawing up her britches. In reality, she grinned wider, having finally gotten a glimpse of her look-alike's weaker side. "I hope I've caused you no undue distress."
While the set of Iris' face quickly regained its calm, austere cast, a touch of concern lingered in her eyes until it was clear her client hadn't been too badly shaken. She couldn't help but raise an eyebrow, though, at the expression on Dharma's face -- the woman's apparent interest was worrying, to say the least. Such tattoos as hers still carried certain connotations which might unsettle potential business partners. While she had an explanation prepared it was, on the whole, a situation she'd rather have avoided altogether.

If Ms. Heart-Payne had any such concerns, though, she did not voice them. She supposed she could have mistaken the look on her client's face. While it occurred to her that the look could easily have been an expression of less pure intentions, the thought did little to unsettle her; with businesspeople, it seemed nearly a custom to stare. With her kimono freed, Iris nonchalantly drew the fine fabric back around her shoulders. "None at all," she dismissed with a pleasant smile. "Rather, I should apologize for our own negligence. These floors should not be so slick." The woman gave a short, apologetic bow.

Leaving Dharma to finish dressing, she made her way to the kettle in the corner and prepared a small teapot just as the water reached its boiling point. "I'll begin with some green tea," she noted conversationally, carrying the steaming pot to a squat table set in the room's drier half. "A delicate leaf from Zheijang province on the mainland, considered one of the best among connoisseurs. Nothing too unusual, but I hope you'll enjoy it all the same." A deep, pleasant aroma began to fill the room, easily mingling with the already-moist air. Iris took position standing at the table, casting a glance back to her dressing client.
Dharma dressed back quickly, keeping her sympathetic smile plastered on as she did. Luckily, dressing was something she could do much more quickly than undressing in the presence of strangers, so within no time, she was back to her entirely black-clad self. "It's no worry at all, Ms. Kodai!" she informed her host with a gentle coo. If Iris had seemed flustered, Dharma would have thought to herself, "What a ridiculous person! I enjoy playing with her and she's clearly not very good at her job." With Iris thus retaining her composure, Dharma thought to herself, "What a ridiculous person! She's lapsed so easily back into that stupid servant's position. Such a simple-minded woman." There was no winning when it came to forming an impression with the Heart-Payne company's president.

"I'm sure the tea will be just lovely," Dharma replied in response to Iris' description of the tea she was serving. By the time Iris looked back to check how her patron's dressing was going, Dharma was already redressed and seated. "You're the expert regardless, so I should differ to your your knowledge on the subject," she chuckled. Combined with her constant expression, it made it seem very much as though she was saying, "I guess everyone's good at something, no matter how insignificant." Which she was, of course, just under an increasingly ineffective veil of politeness.

Iris and Dharma sat down to an otherwise lovely tea, marred by mutual suspicions (both understandable but similarly off the mark), which lasted quite some time.


After having enjoyed some tea, which was really quite good, to her host's credit, and having circulated through every issue of small talk concerning navis and tea/bath houses that she could think of, Dharma decided to excuse herself. "It's been a rare pleasure, Ms. Kodai! Your establishment will certainly come to associates with my recommendations," she assured Iris, beaming as fakely as possible... although, again, the tea had been rather savory. She'd have to remind Phillip to learn how to make green tea.

"These Electopians do sit on a few treasures, don't they? Perhaps I should start dabbling in some of this nonsense myself," she pondered, bowing to Iris without thinking about it. It was the first and possibly last time in her life she'd ever exercise that self-humbling gesture towards anyone. "Ta ta," she finished, heading back out of the bathhouse unceremoniously. As she passed the front desk, she gave the worker there a sympathetic yet worried smile just to set him on edge, then left the building.

((Headed back to Yacht))
((+15 FXP))