Chinggis Marketplace

The further one got from the main server banks of Yumland Net, the more the famously overgrown forests fell away in favour of grassland. Viruses roamed the wastes with impunity, but the thinner the concentration of data got, the less they bothered.

This was one such wildspace. The sun shone high and bright over a veritable sea of grass that stretched in every direction. To the inbound Navis, it would be waist-high and as soft and pliant as silk, tamping down underfoot without effort. The only landmarks in sight were two wind-stripped signposts nearby their entry point; each had only one arrow apiece, which pointed directly at the other. Whichever direction the supposed black market and their quarry lay, finding it would clearly be their first goal.
Arriving in Yumland Net, Tutoria had expected to immediately jump into the game of cat-and-mouse that was disguising herself as a black market shopper in search of their quarry. Instead... "Hm," she murmured, knitting her brow in a serious and slightly miffed expression. Imagining chasing RunningMan's trail was bad enough. Chasing it in a giant open field with the grass too overgrown to even see the net floor was even worse.

What the two needed right now was some guidance and only one person was questionably well-suited for the job. Unfortunately, nothing was striking her immediately. "If only those signs could point us toward a nearby road..." she grumbled. "With no markings and no roads or buildings in sight, they're not particularly..."

"Listen, I got this," Cassiel interrupted, ruining the group dynamic by stealing Tutoria's role. "He spun one of the signs around, okay? Alright. So that means that one way or the other one is right and signs are supposed to point just one way. Makes sense," he chuckled with satisfaction. "Try to figure out which got turned."

"I've got it!" Tutoria exclaimed as a rumble of thunder sounded across the stillness of Yumland Net. "The real answer! Clearly... we must step between them! Then the hidden road will reveal itself!" With the proclamation made, she turned her head, looking to QuestMan pointedly from inside her hood. The look said: "it falls to you, aspiring hero."

"Tutoria, you can see there ain't shuz behind it," Cassiel pointed out unhelpfully.

"Trust in my premonition!" she insisted, then stepped aside so that QuestMan could anticlimatically wall between two old signboards.
QuestMan arrived on the scene with quiet intensity, suppressing his instinct to make a heroic pose in hope that his consideration for the furtive nature of their mission would be equally impressive. He quickly realized that was going nowhere, based on their surroundings. Nonetheless, the grasslands and sign posts put a smile on his face. "At last, an appropriate start to adventure!"

That said, this particular adventure puzzle seemed less adventurous and more puzzling. It sounded like Tutoria and Cassiel were working on it. He listened to both their ideas, nodding and finding either plausible. "Very well. Let us put these ideas to the test."

QuestMan stepped boldly between the signs. The tall grass was obscuring the floor, and it wasn't out of the question that a hole might be poorly hidden there, leading to a dramatic unplanned exit. In the likely event it wasn't so easy, QuestMan would run his chin, feeling about his tunic. "Inventory... the teleporter isn't right here. Zenny isnt technically an item. Could the answer be...?! Maguffr! Unleash your power!" he shouted, raising the hilt in the air.

"OPEN," Maguffr demanded fruitlessly.

Kelsy giggled, glancing at Cassiel and rolling her eyes. "A classic reference. Naturally, while Maguffr is usable in the inventory from the first title, the demon blade is never the solution to a puzzle... Hm. When you see this much tall grass, you can't help but want to cut it."

"True, my lady," QuestMan replied, holding the broken blade before him. "Maguffr is ill-suited to the task, but maybe for a small patch..." the Navi suggested, attempting to grab a bunch of it at once and cut it with the stubby blade close to the root. If he could get it clear, he'd take a look at the ground below, seeing if he could find anything formerly hidden. For that matter, hedge check the soil around the signposts, looking to see if there was, in fact, any sign of disturbance from movement after all.
The grass parted like dry tinder to Maguffr's edge, but revealed nothing but soil and yet more grass. This helped matters about as much as the
diminished sword's demand, which was to say, rather little. More of interest were the steps QuestMan took at his guides' behest, passing between the signposts and appearing, to Tutoria and Cassiel, to vanish completely from sight; one step there, next step gone.

The instant QuestMan stepped through the gate (for this was the signposts' true function), opaque mist crept from the grasslands in a gale. His sights were robbed in an instant, swallowed by white fog and seas of swisting stalks.. As he rose from his attempts to study the local strangeness, the haze had already lifted, curling around sailcloth tents and echoing with the nasal cries of barkers and hang on a minute, what now? Where was he?

A second glance at the signposts merited considerably more information, now marking the start of a beaten path that disappeared amongst brightly coloured tents. For one, they were papered liberally, pamphlets advertising all manner of services (including, by the looks of things, a couple that were decidedly taboo in the civilized sphere.) On a long nail at the forefront was a fat stack of simple maps, left by some anonymous, altruistic soul come before. A closer look would be necessary to peruse it in detail, but at a glance the area was built to resemble a wide horseshoe, with a broad red mark right at it's centre. All this rested under a banner strung between the two posts, labeled 'Chinggis Marketplace' in font that blipped through a handful of commonly-spoken languages.

The path forked before QuestMan, one road flowing seamlessly into the other. To one side flowed the unmistakable aroma of spiced meat and apothecary and human activity, stirred in a cauldron into what would smell, particularly and unmistakably to seasoned adventurers, like bazaar. Pinwheels of silk in every colour imaginable were strung in kites around what looked to be a massive open-air market; QuestMan could just see the outer edge of the hubbub, bristling with Navis about their business. The other path was comparatively duller, hosting the few standing structures visible from the entryway. They were unanimously ugly, dust-covered things that smelled faintly of manure, perfect for any and all shady dealings to be conducted in the middle of blessed nowhere. It was, at a glance, the 'business' side to the market.

It was also occupied.

Two figures burst around the dingy corner, barreling down the street at frankly unreasonable speeds. Leading the pack was an unremarkable HeelNavi, who skittered past QuestMan without so much as a by-your-leave, quaking with fear. It wasn't long in realizing why, for pounding earth after him was a most formidable looking woman, teeth bared in a bull-like rictus of fury. She was clad only in denim jeans, a white wife-beater which only emphasized the sizable heaving of her bosom, and an open flannel shirt that bulged terrifically with muscle. With no restraint in sight, she swung and bounced with wild abandon after the Heel, long red hair flowing like a banner of war out the back of a dogeared trucker cap. "YOU CAN'T RUN FOREVER!" She roared, equally blind to their audience. The situation, at a glance after them as they booked it into the bazaar, was perhaps a little tense.
Tutoria noted the eager smile on QuestMan's face and nodded, matching his tempo. "I thought he was a bit... simple, but it seems that he is game to apply himself to the many feats of puzzle-solving that all would-be adventurers must face. That adventuresome nature will serve our expedition well," she encouraged herself, mentally. She continued to silently encourage herself as she watched QuestMan root through the grass in crouching position. She couldn't help but picture how much better this might be going if Maguffr was its full size, so that he could cut large swaths of grass at once... It might even be an addictive pastime if one were to approach it that way...

With that on her mind, she nearly missed it when QuestMan disappeared into the mist, while following her own instructions. "Ah! A guide should not be left behind! Please wait for me!" she called out, grabbing up the hem of her robe and chasing after him. She nearly crashed into his back as she found him standing in place, transported to the mysterious area between the signposts. Spotting the various tents, she raised her hood again and spoke quietly. "This looks like an area where an experienced adventurer with a sizable purse from their heroic exploits could spend their gains on arms and armor... but unfortunately, we do not yet fall into that category," she admitted, looking to the left and right self-consciously. "Well... besides the money our employers were kind enough to give us. But let us be careful not to spend it outside the mission criteria."

Tutoria plucked one of the nearby maps and began examining it for her own use, while doing her best to ignore some of the other illicit ads that occupied the space around them. "This may be a good time to discuss, QuestMan... As one destined to become a great hero, you are probably already aware, but the righteousness of our actions will be judged by history. As such, we should avoid slips and pitfalls where we can. Therefore, if you see an advertisement for 'Pay-By-Hour Captive Elf Princess Play' I would ask that you dismiss it out of hand-" she instructed QuestMan at length, trying hard not to stare at a particular poster, which advertised what looked like a bustier, wealthier version of herself with a gag in her mouth.

So entrenched in this important lesson was she that she nearly missed when a HeelNavi came flying out of the seedier side of the market. "Caution, QuestMan! The HeelNavi model is traditionally thought to be favored by those with intentions of larceny and violence-!" she began lecturing, pondering for just a moment if that particular warning was racist against a subset of navis, before jumping to one side. "Hee!" she cried indignantly, moving to one side as she noted the figure chasing the HeelNavi. "QuestMan! Our health is too low to withstand-!" she began, before a bolt of inspiration hit her.

"QuestMan!" she started over, sticking close to the wall as she spoke. "That bull-like woman may be a person of interest! We can stop her if we can capture that HeelNavi she's chasing! Quickly, QuestMan: stick out your leg and trip that HeelNavi!" she insisted. That seemed like the sort of thing she could do herself if she really thought it was such a keen idea.

"Woah, damn! You serious? If that Biltz don't stop, ya boi gonna get his leg broke!" Cassiel warned, feeling a moment of human compassion for QuestMan, who he otherwise couldn't care less about. If the woman was moving a little bit slower or looked like she weighed a few kilograms less, he might challenge QuestMan to stop her so he could get a better look... some parts of the chaser were more milk cow than bull, after all.

"I have foreseen it! This will work!" she reiterated, running out of time for any such further reassurances.
“Well, it appears weeee-?!” QuestMan started, tapering off in surprise as he suddenly found himself whisked away into another land. Wishing he hadn’t stopped on such an embarrassing note, the Navi rose and rubbed his eyes with his free fist while clenching Maguffr warily in the other. He gazed around him at the strange new world. He didn’t have long to take in the sights before Tutoria arrived: the only thing he did see was a flyer that featured a woman who looked very much his type, which he quickly averted his eyes from upon Tutoria’s arrival. “W-well met! This is apparently the, ah, ‘Chinggis Marketplace,’” he informed her, gesturing to the large sign welcoming them as he began to take consideration of their surroundings in full.

Tutoria seemed engrossed in her lessons, which he could only half pay attention to as he took in the more alarming sight ahead of them. It may have been one of many such sights going on in the den of debauchery for all he knew, but it was the sole instance that presented itself. “That man appears to be under attack, but looks of the dubious sort himself…” It is perhaps in my nature to offer the benefit of the doubt to the fairer sex,” he remarked inwardly, realizing that in this situation, the running man certainly ought to be the more immediate target of sympathy. “Well, this would be an ideal time to show just what I’m made of in terms of-“

”Running,” was the obvious completion, as QuestMan braced himself to begin pursuit once they were past, but it sounded like Tutoria had a different plan. The Navi grit his teeth, realizing he didn’t have time for hesitation if he wanted to see it through. ”Declaring intentions towards villainy, stumbling from one thing to the next, and now this: I suppose I can at least say I put my best foot forward!” he thought to himself. While many would be concerned for their health, sticking out a leg to break a high-speed chase, QuestMan was confident in his physical strength, and wasted no time.

With that done, however, QuestMan took the follow up in his own hands. He did his best to reach a hand out and catch the falling HeelNavi by the scruff of the neck, turning to the woman barreling towards him and raising a palm in the universal gesture of “stop.” That would have to do, as unless she’d suddenly lost wind or tripped it looked like she would be gaining on her quarry rather than losing him.

QuestMan’s confidence here was born of a number of factors: his chivalrous programming, which saw women as creatures to be protected rather than dangerous aggressors; his daily conditioning, which kept him in a physical condition he was proud of, not simply a surface-level fitness that could be modeled on a Navi; and, most importantly, the fact that as all his day-to-day dealings had involved errands or business meetings, he had not yet felt true pain in his short time on the Net.

Regardless, he was brave and foolhardy to a fault, and he wouldn’t move in his game of chicken: either she’d barrel bodily over him or come to a stop before his hand held out at chest level, at which point he could hopefully try words. This didn’t seem to be related to his main quest, but it would be quite unlike him to turn down a side quest.
The physics engines of the Net World were a wonder oft-unsung. Two beings, virtual machines in their own right, careened down the lane at speeds in the upper realms of human possibility, moving as easily as breathing. The HeelNavi's pursuant tore after him hell-for-leather, arms outstretched before her in a terrifying bear-hug just waiting to happen. He himself kept away by sheer force of hindbrain panic, scrambling without a single care for plotting an escape route or losing his attacker. Both their bodies moved tirelessly, will and intent transcribed in mass and motion.

With all this in mind, the extent to which this equation could be altered with the addition of one outstretched leg - well, suffice to say the effect was quite remarkable indeed. Courtesies of Tutoria's inspiration and QuestMan's quick action, the HeelNavi's skittering achieved a very dramatic, very temporary form of flight. Like a shark smelling blood, the woman poured on a final burst of steam, arms wide, bellowing bloody triumph. The HeelNavi stood no chance; QuestMan, no matter how heroic his pose, fared little better.

They went down. Arms flailed, legs tangled, a tent more or less exploded into flinders. Maguffr's splintered edge caught on a wave of shiny red silk, which proceeded to thoroughly wrap and shroud the trio as they rolled, experiencing first-hand the joys of inertia. The Heel's helmet was clenched in their captor's dustpan-sized hands, the rest of him alternately caught in silken shackles or caroming off the landscape. QuestMan, trapped between the two bodies, fared considerably better. Shoulders pinned neatly between a pair of most respectable biceps, his head, neck, and one very fortunate hand trapped between them were cushioned from impact via the other aspects of her confusing, albeit impressive anatomy. Blinded like a racehorse, QuestMan experienced the Net's jiggle physics as no Navi had ever before.

Truly, an unsung wonder of their world.

They rolled to a stop against the side of a stall, its inhabitants having seen the incoming katamari and fled screaming. "GOTCHA!" the woman cried out, perhaps a little belatedly. The HeelNavi could only groan in response. "Now yer gonna...wait a sec, whuh?" She finally seemed to realise there was someone between her and her prey, and looked down (this involved a fair bit of contorting to be possible). Her expression, or what little of it QuestMan might be able to see, was more amiably bemused than anything he might have expected. "Where'd you come from, lil' buddy?"

With a muttered, "Lemme just..." The woman, still unnamed, stood the three of them up. The silks held fast; between her grasp on the Heel and her cleavage's grasp on QuestMan, she was holding up the party like any proud tank, though herself unable (or unwilling) to release her grip to untangle them. "Uhhhhh," she looked around, spying Tutoria against the wall and immediately lighting up. "Well hel-LO there! This your friend? We could use a helping hand or two, knowwhatimsayin'?" Her eyebrows waggled up and down suggestively above a braggadocio grin. She swaggered forward as though there wasn't a tent's worth of fabric and two additional passengers on her person, eyeing the maiden's slim profile up and down. "Little thing like you shouldn't be wandering around here alone, y'know? The name's Teamster, I'm thinkin' we could be real good friends." The back of QuestMan's head protruding from her cleavage still didn't seem to be bothering her.

"Please stop, I'll do anything, just please stop," whimpered the HeelNavi, by now dangling like a stringless puppet against QuestMan's back.
Having expended what little time they had to strategize and move, Tutoria immediately questioned the judgment imbued by her own flash of inspiration, as she watched everyone go down in a pile. Well, less of a pile and more of a tumbling boulder. For a harrowing moment, she wondered if she was going to go down in the annals of history as the worst guide for the most short-lived adventure of all time.

The pointy-eared sorceress lifted the hem of her robe and hurried down the hill. "Oh dear, oooh dear," she whispered quietly, opening her book as she ran and flipping to the page for LV. 1 HEAL, even as the pages fluttered frustratingly against each other.

As it turned out, once she rejoined the others, she realized that QuestMan was alright... maybe a little more than alright. She tried to ignore that and focused instead on the blithe greeting of their new acquaintance. "A-Ah, yes, I was just coming down to... lend him a hand," Tutoria agreed, wondering if she was missing some context in the statement that amused their large friend so. That message became a little clearer as the lady continued. "Oh, thank you, Miss Teamster," she smiled awkwardly, then pointed towards her cleavage. "But I am actually not here alone. I'm here with QuestMan who you have, eh... captured in your... I guess I should say-"

A flash of lightning above her head informed her how best to handle the situation. "What I should say is that the two of you together did a fabulous job of apprehending the runner! QuestMan's quick action ensured the robber's fumble, and then you used your very impressive... very secure bosom to cushion his fall! I think we are both very appreciative you were there!" QuestMan might be even more appreciative than she was.

"Aaaah, sooo," she continued rubbing the braid of her ponytail with a bit of anxiety. "If you don't mind, I'd like to ask you some questions. You see, we are actually pursuing another fast runner ourselves! A man with a plate on his chest, have you seen anyone such?"

She would wait for a response, watching the uncomfortable HeelNavi out of the corner of her eye with a bit of pity, then continued. "If I may be so bold, we could certainly use your services as a speedy runner to help us apprehend our target! Is there any way you might be persuaded to join your legs together with mine in this cause, for a short time?" Tutoria requested, moving forward to help QuestMan get free by tugging on one arm, provided he wasn't already moving... She could be mistaken, but he didn't seem overly concerned with freeing himself.
A drop of sweat rolled down QuestMan’s neck as he realized the avalanche of woman bearing down on him had no intent of stopping. He started to open his mouth to offer some heroic last words before meeting his end, but there was no time for that. In a flash, his arm had disappeared into the woman’s curves. Soon, the matter of what parts of him were enveloped became a secondary concern as his entire being became obscured by two Navis and what was presumably somebody’s place of business.

After that, QuestMan’s world went dark as he experienced more new tactile experiences in five seconds than he could remember in his whole short time on the Net; pain, noise, confusion, and… something else. For a moment, QuestMan got enough of a grip even in fall to figure out where he was, before a sudden jab in his leg caused him to cry out in pain, a cry so muffled by bosom and silk only he would hear it.

”BLOODSHED,” Maguffr would shout ominously as it clattered from the tent-mass, slick with the smear of data from the nick it had given to its owner’s leg.

QuestMan could tell he had come to a stop, but little else; his only full horn extending like a periscope from the sea he found himself in. He tried squirming to free himself… then realized that without some help or his cutting tools, he had about as good of a chance of getting free as the Navi behind him. Still taking stock of his situation, he groped blindly for a moment… before realizing he was indeed groping and sliding his hand somewhere else, thankful Tutoria wouldn’t be able to see. “Ah, I was merely checking for the chestplate! There is none, she is not our target,” QuestMan cried, although it wasn’t especially likely Tutoria would make that out.

QuestMan had at least managed to maneuver his head up and out of its trap, which left him in uncomfortably-more-obvious face-to-cleavage proximity to the woman, but did allow him to see the lower part of her face and speak. “Lady Teamster! QuestMan, well met. Lady Tutoria’s task is urgent, but, ehm… perhaps one of the two of you could set to the task of freeing me first?” Now that he could breathe freely, QuestMan faced a new challenge that could prove even more perilous: becoming more aware of his “surroundings,” the hero was now valiantly fighting to suppress a physical reaction that was in danger of beginning to press against his captor, should he not be released soon.
"Oohoohoo, don't be shy now! None of us are goin' nowhere, y'see?" Between the high of landing her catch, Tutoria's overtures, and perhaps a little of QuestMan's ministrations, Teamster was in clearly in the highest of spirits. The apples of her cheeks blossomed pink at the elf-maiden's words of praise, "Well, shucks!" she swaggered right up into Tutoria's personal space, irregardless of the fact that she was still wholly entangled, and that doing so put QuestMan's head right over Tutoria's shoulder. "Why don't you an' I put our pretty lil' heads together, and I'm sure we can work somethin' out. Aww, hey lil' buddy!" she grinned as QuestMan finally resurfaced; from his perspective, the wide, friendly smile and a prominent chin dominated his view...or what little of it wasn't already obscured by pillow-soft decolletage. "You want out? Alright, just gimme a sec, a'ight?" Despite the unseen peril of our protagonist's position (and what a position she would be in to notice it!) Teamster seemed far and away more intent on listening to Tutoria. Her grin grew as she parsed the description of their mark. "Oho, so yeh might call 'im, whassat, a 'running man'? Heh! Heh! HRAAHAHA!" With a great rip, the tent exploded off the three Navis, such was the force of her great booming laugh. Evidently she'd never needed the help untangling herself, but had simply been focused on the pleasant distraction of Tutoria's attention.

"So!" Teamster made without a second thought to sling an arm around Tutoria's shoulders, steering them away from the colourful bazaar and back towards the dingier parts of town, chattering merrily and dragging the HeelNavi in her other hand like a child's toy. "Miss 'Lady Tutoria,' You and your friend Question are after the Runner, eh? Well, Tori, mind if I call ya Tori? Tori, I got good news an' I got bad news, an' the good news an' the bad news are the same news, ya get me?" The HeelNavi groaned, weakly grabbing at her wrist, less to make her release her grip and more just trying to keep from dragging too hard on the ground. "Point is, you ain't alone. Truth of the matter is, just about everyone in this here market's got it out for the dirty Ratton, m'self included!" She jingled the HeelNavi like a set of car keys. "Matter of fact, chasing the bastard is what brought this lil' goof into it! So I got an idea here, why don't we all stop and have a lil' chat about our, whassa word, mutual acquaintance RunningMan?" With a saunter and an unsettling little smirk, she stepped into an alleyway. She paused a moment, turning away from Tutoria (whom she'd been facing during this exchange) and frowning, and turned back to QuestMan. Immediately she broke out into a look of realisation, followed by a friendly grin. "C'mere, lil' buddy, I got a little job for ya, you'll thank me later."

The combined junk data of two standing buildings made for a dingy sort of haze that permeated the alley like greasy, slimy air. "Right, then," Teamster sat the limp violet ne'er-do-well on a trash can, where he slumped like a discarded puppet. " Let's make the object of this talk very clear, first of all," she commanded, instantly no-nonsense. "Now I saw you in yer crummy little shack, talkin' to the Runner with his big ol' bag of stolen goodies." The HeelNavi wiped his brow, though there wasn't a single bit of him capable of producing sweat. Teamster leaned in, somehow making the motion look lethal. Her eyes narrowed, "Now he could'a just been peddlin' for filthy lucre, but there's the bazaar for that. No, meetin' you in a place like this, that says business to me. I wanna know that business." She sat back suddenly, still scrutinising the HeelNavi. "Y'all ever been to church?" she asked, suddenly casual.

"C-church?!" The HeelNavi was a lot of things in that moment. Flabbergasted, traumatised, terrified, all these fit the bill, but above all else he was exhausted, and that showed through in a delirious sort of hysteria. "Wha-wh-we're Navis!" he stammered, pinned like a fly to a corkboard under Teamster's glare. "Navis don't go to church!"

"Hey, what if yer Operator were religious, then, huh? You gonna skip out on your big guy 'cuz yer brain's too small for things like faith?" She reached and shook him a little; he went limp again. "So church, yeah? Real interesting stuff, really kinda gives you a feel for, whazza word? Humanity? Yeah, humanity." The longer Teamster rambled, the more uncomfortable the Heel seemed to get. She smirked; it was not a nice smirk. "Now, my favourite part of the whole thing, well that's gotta be the confession booth. Seems weird, but hear me out, yeah? So people in the olden days, they didn't have no names for anxiety, or bipolar or psychopathy any o' that. They thought it was devils, right! Or curses or any o' that. So they go to church an' they sit in a dark lil' box and they confess about all the bad and nasty things their devils drove 'em to do, all their woes and their sins and their angers and on and on. And you got these old priests, who had to sit in the dark with all these poor folk and keep 'em from driving themselves mad!"

"...but here's the thing," Teamster's voice, animated to say the least, went very soft. "You go to confession to be forgiven, yeah? Forgiven by God? Only there's no big beardy sky-daddy sittin' in that little dark box with you. It's just you. You and that priest. And the priest's just a mouthpiece, he's not there to be himself. So the forgiveness? It's gotta come from you." She stood up, turned to indicate Tutoria. "This lovely lady here is your priest. Just look into those big green eyes, and let it all come out. It's gotta come from you," she repeated for emphasis. "Otherwise?" Her titanic arm swept towards QuestMan. "My friend here, you don't want him to be your devil. You saw how he didn't even hesitate to stop you short? He don't give a truck, that's the kinda guy he is. Right, lil' buddy?" She gave him and Tutoria the floor, giving them the chance if they chose to finish her work. The HeelNavi was, at this point, shaking like a leaf and nearly in tears, despite possessing neither a shiver reflex nor tear ducts. Whatever they chose to say, it likely wouldn't take much.
"Oh dear... You're wounded after all," Tutoria winced, seeing the fresh cut on QuestMan's leg. It wasn't much of a battle wound, given both its self-inflicted nature and relatively low severity, but she felt bad about it, given that her suggestion was at least partly responsible for his predicament. She left off trying to grab his hand and brought up her spell book instead. "Chanting the words for Level 1 Heal... Cutius culorius buh-"

That was as far as she got before she was suddenly aware of the hero's head dangling right next to her own, due to Teamster's sudden step in. The elf brought up the heavy book to her nose level and held it with both hands, as if willing it to act as a shield for her. With the big lady now holding on to Tutoria's narrow shoulders, the woman was effectively carrying the two of them, along with her original target, without breaking a sweat. "Ah ha! Ha! I suppose he is a... running man," Tutoria piped a response back, failing to match the enthusiasm of laughter and looking even paler than usual as she felt the strength of their new acquaintance. "Tori is fine. His name is actually... QuestMan, I should point out..." she practically whispered, feeling just discontent enough at the prospect of their very first misremembering the name of the hero to speak up about it.

If Cassiel had been paying attention, he might warn the two navis that right now, Teamster was reminding him of the sort of two-faced, all smiles one moment, breaking knees with hammers another moment, gangsters that he had seen on certain tv programs before. For now, Tutroia had no such context, but she was still plenty worried about both the woman's reckless power and her intentions.

The next moments passed like a blur, from the streets, into an alley, into some very frightening intimidation talk that all the same yielded useful new tidbits of information. When Teamster asked Tutoria a quest, she prayed for a bolt of inspiration to give her clarity of mind to answer. Whe it didn't come, she tried her best. "Um... despite my looks, no, I practice no religion and attend no church. Miracles are ours for the claiming; there are no higher powers we attribute them to or who bless us with them," she spoke with nervous quickness.

That didn't appear to be the right answer, because Teamster had a very thorough, church-based metaphor set up. "B-But I can appreciate the strength that people find in faith," she added quickly as Teamster continued, even though it wasn't her turn to speak. The big green eyes that Teamster had referred to were fixed on the large lady almost as nervously as the HeelNavi's must be. She had no idea why Teamster was leaving this up to the two of them, but the last thing she was going to do was fail to uphold her end of it. Holding her book beneath her arm, she clasped both hands together and practically begged. "Please... tell us what you know about RunningMan. For your own salvation," she insisted, her worry showing despite the angry tilt of her circlet.

A flash of inspiration then chose a weird time to show up; she clasped a hand onto QuestMan's shoulder and faced the HeelNavi. She adopted a look of severity. "You should know that QuestMan here wields a dark blade, Maguffr. Even if QuestMan shows you mercy, his sword may not. Maguffr, what is your initial impression, regarding this man's guilt or innocence?" she asked, with an air of seriousness that didn't match the sword's somewhat silly few spoken lines so far.
QuestMan fell gracelessly from the chest of his captor and onto his back as someone’s tent exploded into tatters at the force of Teamster’s laugh. “I’m okay! I’m okay,” QuestMan reassured the person he’d presumed had asked, helping himself up and straightening his own helmet, then following along behind “Tori” and her chummy new friend. “That’s QuestMan!” he called to the two, jogging over to reclaim his sword before sprinting lightly to catch back up with them.

”FORGOTTEN HERO,” Macguffr commented in his usual deep bellow.

“Forgotten? I could never forget my legendary weapon,” QuestMan replied with a smile, misinterpreting his sword’s commentary as he kept pace and rejoined the conversation. “Ah! Truly, ours is a fated crossing, then,” QuestMan remarked to Teamster. Whether she was listening or not, it did the hero good to remind himself that every now and then, things were lining up like a proper quest. He held his clueless smile when Teamster addressed him; he didn’t think “little buddy” was his favorite heroic moniker he’d earn, but he couldn’t deny it fit when comparing the two of them.

Asked about “church,” QuestMan almost replied in the affirmative before remembering it was only the video-game model he was based on which had ever stepped foot inside a church. Tutoria seemed to have a deep answer for it, but the fact of the matter was 1) traditional churches were indeed a rarity on the Net in his limited experience, and 2) Kelsy didn’t regularly attend one, as far as he knew, so there was no reason she’d press for him to do so. Regardless, he figured the question was probably meant for the poor purple villain Teamster had abducted and kept his ruminations to himself… which was fine, as it seemed this was just a way of metaphor, regardless.

Teamster quickly made clear the parts she intended for them to play in her impromptu drama, although QuestMan couldn’t fathom why he was being asked to act as the “heavy” in this situation by the woman twice his size. Bizarrely, it seemed the direction he’d understood earlier to act as a villain was indeed come to pass. While he worked out how he would go about doing so, Tutoria gave him a prompt of his own. “Ah… ah yes! Villain, speak your truth, or the demon blade Macguffr will demonstrate the dark justice we mete upon those who strive to make fools of us, cross us, or simply inconvenience us. Admittedly, the broken blade may not appear fearsome, but the injuries it will visit upon you will be legendary!”

”DEEP GOUGING,” Macguffr rumbled menacingly.

“Well, it may not truly be deep, as you can see the blade itself is but a stub. However, data will be drawn, make no mistake!”


“Yes, this situation is indeed hopeless for you, if you try to lie your way out of this!” QuestMan barked, starting to get into the act, questionably effective though it may be.
Spooked as a shocked rabbit, the HeelNavi's eyes darted to Tutoria, to QuestMan, back to Tutoria. He could not bear to look Teamster in the eye any longer, skittered his gaze past her feet rather than chance it. He made to hug himself, then changed his mind and clutched his battered helmet. QuestMan's intimidation, however questionable, was still plenty enough for a man who had effectively just been run over by a sentient truck, and then dragged on the road by its suspension awhile.

Despair and hysteria percolated in the HeelNavi's processing cortex, bubbling out at last in a high, keening wail. The very sight of Maguffr's hilt alone had him folding like a cheap suit, collapsing to the ground at Tutoria's feet; hands, knees, and head to the earth, he prostrated his misery, blubbering into her boots a litany of, "E-eeenough already! Pl-p-please." He scrabbled in the dingy soil like an animal, barely able to raise his head above the tops of Tutoria's boots. "I'll, I'll tell, I'll tell ya everything I know, jus' please-!" Teamster's church metaphor, knowingly or not, seemed to be following through, in the bow of his spine, and the desperation with which he reached for the hem of a proffered robe.

With a few deep, shuddering breaths to jump-start, the penitent thief began his tale. "So RunningMan, well at his core, he's two things. He's fast, an' he's Zenny-crazy, right? A real one-man horses-n-cowboys show, that's for sure; always heistin', always gettin' away with crazy sh-schmutz," he stuttered, steered away from profanity by Tutoria's robes, "an' always hawkin' off anything he snags that ain't already liquid. An' he does business in a whole lotta places, but anytime he's on KhanMan's turf, he knows t'come to me for good, legal tender, s'long as I gotta market for whatever he's sellin'..."

He trailed off suddenly. Teamster, for her part, offered only a scornful huff. She made to stand up, only for their interrogatee to hurriedly press on, "A-an' that'd be just fine, if that were all it came to!" Rocking suddenly off-kilter, breath caught in racking shivers, it became more and more apparent that the HeelNavi's rampant anxieties hadn't started with being chased hell for leather from his own storefront.

Looking interested, Teamster dropped back to her box, folding her arms and leaning in as though this were all a very entertaining poker game. That this only intensified the enormity of her cleavage seemed of no consequence to her; at this point, a breach in her wifebeater seemed terrifyingly imminent. "And what did it come to?" she prompted, leering.

"He, he had this can o'stuff, right?" Finally he raised his head skyward, meeting Tutoria's gaze dead-on. His gold eyes were wide with remembered fear. He continued, shakily, "Tryin'a pawn it off, pretty typical. Only he seemed...spooked. Like, in-over-his-head kinda spooked, and that alone should'a tipped me off. N-not much he ain't gotten away with already, right!" He laughed, not a little hysterically. "But there he was, pacin' up a storm, kept askin' about the train schedule an' muttering about 'recouping 'is losses', whatever that meant. And this stuff..." A full-body shudder racked him for a moment, transitioning into a humorless chuckle. "Exotic, he kept sayin'. Hah! No, I wouldn't sell it. Wouldn't even touch it. Only types'o folk looking for bad sh-schmutz like that, I ain't going near 'em with a ten-foot BigHammer, know what I'm sayin'?"

"Oh yeah," Teamster chimed in, "I know." She stood up, affected a slow, ambling stroll through their tiny audience. "I'mma go ahead and guess my part in the story starts right around here?" Each pondering step makes the packed earth ripple around her feet. So spooked was he that the shockwave, felt through gloved hands against the dirt, sent the HeelNavi rocking back onto his knees. His chest shuddered; it didn't look healthy, nor comfortable. "I track the Ratton bastard to your place, and there you boys are, pants down, deal gone south. So he stows his lil' can of wonders and takes off out the window." Teamster snickered to herself at the memory, leaning over the Heel's shoulder a moment. "Took most of the window with 'im too, I might recall! Real, whassa word, considerate buddy you got there," she laughed, giving him a hefty one-two clap on the shoulder on her way around. Moving back into a huddle with her charges, she wrapped an arm apiece around them and brought them in close. "And the rest is history!"

"SO!" Despite having two full-sized Navis in her embrace, Teamster still had reach enough to clap her mitts together. That doing so would bodily fling QuestMan and Tutoria into one another seemed, to prove the norm once more, utterly beyond her notice. "Let's recap here! We've got the Runner running scared with some high-calibre cargo strapped to his back: that's good! We want him scared, that's when he'll start making mistakes, backing himself into corners." The HeelNavi had just lowered back to his hands and knees, ready to crawl off, when she finished her thought, "Only problem we got left here...what to do about this little goof?"

He froze in place. Teamster's pawlike hands release their grips on the adventurers, the giant woman pouncing with all the terminal force of a falling anvil. The HeelNavi was summarily scooped up by his armpits, legs dangling an easy foot from the ground. "H-hey now, we can be gentle about this, yeah?" his protests were weak, the fight drained from his limbs when his life was being quite literally held in another's hands.

"Could we?" Teamster's lips were practically kissing the side of the Heel's helmet, right where his ear would be. "Could we let you scurry off to warn your buddy? Word travels fast 'round here, think we can afford that, Tori? Bet yer boss wouldn't be too happy if RunningMan got away, would he?" Her grip audibly tightened; the HeelNavi made a noise somewhere between a groan and a sob. "Hey QuestMan, c'mere a sec will you?" she jutted her chin at the Navi in question, beckoning him forward. "What d'you think, lil' buddy? Yer sword there sounds pretty insistent, you wanna do the honours?" Her grin was a feral thing, her eyes lasered onto Maguffr's hilt, and the menacing shiver of blade concealed therein.

The HeelNavi slumped into deadweight, unable to hold himself up any longer. "You don't gotta do this," he moaned into his chest, "I'm just a, just a SoloNavi, man, I ain't got none'a your Undershirts or EJOs or any'a that fancy shmutz. I'll serve ya, I'll never say a word again, I'll do anything. Jus' please..." he collapsed, defeated. Teamster took a step forward, urging QuestMan's action on, whatever it may be.
Tutoria smiled encouragingly, seeing that QuestMan was making an effort to be an intimidating inquisitor. "It is most... I don't want to say ineffective. Unfitting, perhaps, is the better word, yes. It's very ill-fitting for a hero to be undertaking this sort of business, so it is only logical that it doesn't come to him naturally," she thought to herself, trying to put a positive spin on what a wholly unconvincing bully her ally made. Thankfully, it seemed like their target didn't see that at all; he spilled the beans pretty readily. Tutoria tried not to jump as the man clutched at the hem of her robe; typically, captors didn't tend to get frightened at their captives' groveling.

As she listened, she compartmentalized various observations, form the useful- that the navi and RunningMan did regular business, for instance- to the useless- that the man's curse words sounded oddly similar to the ones Cassiel used, based on enemies from her titular video game., for example. She wanted to point out that certain aspects of this sounded so vague as to have been intentionally obscured- the 'can of stuff', particularly, needed some elaboration- but she thought the guy seemed so totally spooked that he must be fully releasing any information he could recall. Puzzling out these details only became more difficult as Teamster again insisted on mashing her together with her teammate.

From this distance, QuestMan may find his dreams crushed, as he'd discover that Tutoria's slender upper body was pretty much on the opposite side of the filled-out spectrum, compared to Teamster's. "Scared may be good, perhaps, except that's also when he'll run presumably. It sounds like he runs whether he's scared or he isn't," she pointed out, lowering her eyebrows in an expression of slight impatience. She turned her eyes back to their captive as Teamster released her and jumped back over to him. Needless to say, playing criminal or not, she couldn't go along with Teamster's suggestion. "After all, even besides the need to protect the sanctity of our heroic quest, we mustn't forget that our employer is a policeman... I think?" she questioned herself, remembering the confusing way the villainous lawman had acted.

"You are correct: we can't let RunningMan get away. HOWEVER," Tutoria continued, quickly and loudly. "There is no need to take it out on this poor middleman. After all, going back to our church analogy, he knows that evil deeds have a way of catching up to their sinners. And he wouldn't want to be caught up in any of this ever again, I'm sure," she explained. A bolt of lightning flashed above her head, and she licked one finger for a moment, turning a page in her book. "Also, I strictly record the faces and deeds of, ahem, unsavory punks in this book of mine! One wrong move and he's smote by lightning!"

She nodded to QuestMan, urging him to follow her lead. After all, in their quest, the means mattered; they couldn't go deleting navis just for the sake of tying up loose ends.
QuestMan was torn between the emotions of sympathy for their tearful captive and unfounded pride that his first shot at playing a threatening miscreant had gone so well. To split the difference, he didn’t push his luck by trying any more lines, instead trying on his most menacing grin and flourishing his busted sword, tracing trails through the air like it was a knife. Eventually, even this effort at maintaining the character faded as the Navi let Teamster resume her natural role in the pressing and focused on the HeelNavi’s story. The Navi couldn’t help but spare a glance at Teamster’s mountain of cleavage when she made it hard to ignore, but he shook himself free of the spell, aided by the image of himself being dragged into a confessional like the poor soul before them.

He was paying enough attention to get the details of the two Navis’ discussion, but not enough to perform any critical analysis of it. That went double as he found himself flung around again, into both allies at once. Tutoria’s lack of a chest would, like most anything else, go unnoticed next to any gesture that put him in close proximity to the eclipsing size of his other ally. He stumbled back as he was released, thinking to himself he’d already done far too much stumbling for a hero embarked on an epic adventure.

With a chance to think again, he had to agree with Tutoria: scared didn’t seem like an ideal trait for a running Navi they’d prefer stand still… and yet, the thought did give him a certain bit of inspiration. “It sounds like he is trying to get this item off his hands as quickly as possible. He might run, but only to the nearest shop he trusts. If we knew who else he did business with, we might be able to track him down and catch him in a similar act.”

”BLOOD OFFERING,” Maguffr interrupted, uncharacteristically verbose due to its enthusiasm with Teamster’s suggestion. ”AWAKEN NEW POW-“

“No,” QuestMan interrupted in turn, nodding to Tutoria. Even without her reminding, he wouldn’t betray his heroic nature that readily (or easily, as it was proving a challenging to run against his own coding). “Rather than cutting the miscreant down, it would be wiser to have him accompany us. A Navi like this is surely aware of other dealers in the area: in order to ‘redeem’ himself, I’m sure he would be more than happy to act as our guide to other locations where we might find our quarry. Of course, this will allow us to keep our eyes on him, as well.”

Far from a convincing villain now, QuestMan beamed at his allies, transparently expecting something -Praise? Positive reinforcement? A treat? - for coming up with such a bright idea.
A long, winding silence settled into the dingy alley, all parties having said their bits and made their bids. The HeelNavi, his would-be jury and executioner, even the stone walls boxing the Navis in seemed to hold their breath, watching the silence curl like a mantle of influence over the mountainous shoulders of their judge. Teamster, she of barrel-chest and cannon-bosom, was imposing enough in ordinary light and circumstance; the close quarters and the gravity of everyone's attention made of her a monolith. She gave a great bouncing guffaw, and then another, glancing between her impromptu charges with a sawtoothed sort of approval blended with surprise. Having her own metaphors used against her was clearly not a habit of her's.

Teamster held the silence a heartbeat longer, and relaxed her hands. The HeelNavi fell to the ground in a heap - he made as though to get up, then paused, evaluated the distance between himself and the lethal-looking boots he was level with, and instead began crawling away from his captors. Teamster let him prop himself up against a crate before turning her attentions to QuestMan and Tutoria. "Well lookit you!" she said, peering down at the smaller woman. Her eyes took on an inquisitive sort of glint, a rogue's eye that sat more naturally on her features than the earlier buffoonish flirting. "Wouldn'ta thought you to keep rap sheets! You're made of some stern kinda stuff, ain'tcha?" She folded her arms and leaned back, cocking her head towards the prone Heel before addressing QuestMan. "See what you did there? That's how black markets like these work. It's dangerous to go alone, y'know? Everyone's got a worth to 'em, and you gotta protect yer worth. Best way to do that is have backup, collaborate. As for getting that backup..."

Silence for a moment; Teamster's gaze stretched for miles as she pondered her words. "Some might call it fear," she mused, as much to herself as to QuestMan. She dipped her head to the Heel, sitting upright and cowered into sullen silence. "Others might say it's about rep, about making yourself look like...more, more than just you. Disrupting expectations - when we can look like anything," a nod from elf-maiden, to folk hero, to anonymous goon, "anyone can look like a threat, depending on what you show the world. I say, all these play into it, but what really matters in Chinggis, in Sparrowfall, in all the back corners of the Net, is making sure that whatever happens, you seize the initiative." A weighty fist clapping into a palm punctuated her speech. "Catching a rat, building up a the end, you gotta make the first move. So! How we gonna get the drop on our rat?"

"Ah..." a weak voice started. The HeelNavi had finally levered himself to his feet, unsteady and bow-legged but clearly mustering whatever second wind was afforded to him. "The boy in brown there, he was talkin' 'bout checkin' in on RunningMan's other contacts?" he asked the floor. When nobody moved to silence him, he kept going, "I uh, I dunno who he'll go to exactly, but there are a few tents in the bazaar I've worked with, when he stops by for a liquidatin'. Schmucks who'll buy what I won't, know what I'm sayin'? I could, I could take you to 'em?"

"Hrmmmm..." Teamster stroked her chin in contemplation. It was an exceptionally strange affectation to be found on a woman, particularly a woman without a beard (for anything truly could happen in the Net World). After a moment, she shrugged expansively, gesturing him to lead the way. "Sure, sounds good. We can brainstorm on the way there. One thing before we go, though..." her eyes narrowed, and the Heel nearly fell over again before she finally snorted and gave the ultimatum, "Ditch the .GMO, I'm sick of not havin' anything but goof to call ya. You work with us, you show your real face."

"M-my face?!" Hands slapped the sides of his helmet as though he were clutching his cheeks. The HeelNavi dithered, hummed and hawed, and lasted perhaps five more seconds against Teamster's glare. "Yeah, yeah, I get it," he grumbled. One snap of his fingers later, the HeelNavi wasn't a HeelNavi anymore. The form that took his place, presumably his base model, was of a fashion even older than QuestMan's; his face was little more than two golden Zenny coins for eyes, and a light-up grille mouth popular with old-school robotics fans, situated in a clunky green helmet. His bodysuit was blindingly, offensively yellow, wrapped in clinking zenny-coin chainmail around the torso, arms and legs. His emblem could have been anywhere on his person, one gleaming Zenny among many. Green plastic-like boots jingled as he walked to the mouth of the alley. turning to address his new bosses. "Teamster, QuestMan, and...Tutoria? I'm GeltMan...look forward to workin' with yous, I guess." If he sounded a little sullen as they made their way back towards the tent city, it was likely at least a little understandable.

"Well then! This is progress!" Teamster's mitts came down onto what seemed to be their favourite positions: one apiece on Tutoria's and QuestMan's shoulders, performing what was essentially a walking huddle. "Good work back there, the both of ya. We'll make alley kings 'n queens of you yet!" she grinned - it was not a very nice grin. "So, sounds like we'll be calling on a few folks here. How do you kids wanna handle this? We go through 'em one by one, RunningRat might be scampering from Joe #3 while we're still talkin' to #1. Split the party, and we gotta figure out...whassa word...reconvening, so we ain't losing you kids forever in the scrum in there. Any thoughts, Tori? Lil' buddy?"
"A fine idea," Tutoria agreed with QuestMan, offering a soft smile that some might indeed call positive reinforcement. "He can be anot- er, a useful asset to us," she corrected herself, not wanting to reveal to Teamster that she was still thinking of the big, rowdy gal mostly as an asset, both in terms of street smarts and toughness. Though, it seemed like Teamster was oddly predisposed to acting as a teacher or guide, not only assisting them, but also laying out several factors in extreme detail, as though she wanted them to learn it, not just hear it. In some ways, the girl was fulfilling Tutoria's role as a counselor far better than she herself was.

Or, perhaps Teamster just really liked the sound of her own voice. Tutoria couldn't rule that out either. Thankfully, GeltMan revealed a name and distinct appearance shortly after this thought. If he hadn't, it'd be pretty easy to get him confused for someone else as they continued. "Our best move is definitely to investigate those leads. We could cover more ground if we split up, it's true, but I think our options there are somewhat limited. Our friend can point us in the right direction, but I doubt he can make us so familiar with the place that we'll look like anything less than snoops peeking our heads in. And if they think we're snoops on our lonesome... well, the outcome I'm picturing is less than ideal." In her mind, they couldn't split up and each investigate another place, or they'd be too vulnerable (even if Teamster would be just fine on her own).

The options, then, were to split up into teams of two minimum. "My proposal would be to split into two teams and investigate. Teamster is certainly the strongest among us, so if one of the leads is particularly dangerous, I'd recommend that she be assigned to that team. As for how we should break the teams up-" she continued, before a particularly loud bolt of lightning struck above her head, likely drawing people's attention. She cleared her throat, crossed her hands behind her back, and rocked on her heels until everyone in the surrounding area stopped glaring at her. "I believe that it's very important that I stay near QuestMan to provide continuous guidance. We will pose as a tourist couple asking questions, at one of the less dangerous stops. Teamster, I believe you're up for the challenge of investigating one of the rougher areas, while keeping an eye on GeltMan."

"A couple, huh? It's movin' fast, ain't it?" Cassiel asked, idly ribbing his navi.

Tutoria lowered her eyebrows, then closed her eyes and exhaled. "I'm QuestMan's teacher, Cassiel. Imagining something like that is almost as fanciful as imagining you acting flirtatiously with your boss," she chuckled dryly.

Cassiel raised one eyebrow, then adjusted his shades. "Yeah, sure. But hold up, hold up. Just one thing though. That's kinda bein' a stone cold biltz to ya boi, ain't it? You just dumped a bucket'a cold water on him, for sure," Cassiel muttered, feeling a little sorry for QuestMan.

Again, Tutoria chuckled, this time more genuinely. "Come now, QuestMan isn't so sensitive as that! He-" she started, before another small thunderclap interrupted her, "-he knows what a catch he is! He has no reason to be dejected." Seeming to find nothing off with that answer, she reached out her arm to allow QuestMan to take it. "Now, GeltMan- please give us a location where we might inquire, at least at start, as a tourist couple, and let us know any information you already have on this broker that might assist us. You and Teamster should pick one of the areas where her talents will come in handiest. We can meet back up here once we finish, or go to one another if we figure out his location before then."
“Initiative, I agree! Getting the first strike is one of the basics of being a hero… although, sometimes who gets that first strike seems to be based on luck,” QuestMan mused, briefly contemplating how to expand that into something more profound before focusing on the task at hand again. The Navi was pleased the others had picked up his idea and run with it… and, just as importantly, that he seemed to have (tentatively, hopefully) saved the newly revealed GeltMan from becoming a bloody smear and a pile of Zenny in some back alley. While he didn’t have any reason to believe the Navi was anybody’s saint, his heroic nature sought to protect the weak even before punishing the wicked. In terms of physicality and menace, there was no question who was the weak in a contest between Teamster and her quarry.

“Well, well. Progress, I’d say! Our party grows by the minute,” he agreed with the large woman, quickly reframing their newly formed group from an alley gang to terms more palatable to himself. As both Tutoria and Teamster made clear, however, the issue was how to divide that party in an effective fashion. Eager to fish for more props from his traveling companion, the hero began brainstorming, although Tutoria took the lead on this suggestion. While QuestMan was glad to hear Tutoria’s wisdom wouldn’t separate the two of them, he had to admit to himself he had plenty of concerns. ”Besides GeltMan himself, Teamster would likely have been most suited to locate and then press a shady stallkeeper… We’ll need good enough directions, and be relying on some luck that we’ll be allowed to proceed at all… I’m also concerned about Teamster going off with GeltMan alone. We formed a quick alliance by common cause, but I’m uncertain she’ll preserve our interests as well if we aren’t present.”

Although he’d momentarily been lost in his thoughts, Tutoria’s unprompted reassurance in his desirability and offer to join arms bolstered his confidence. ”No, I should leave the planning to the wisdom of Tutoria. As a team, she’ll be relying on my protection and sharp reflexes.” With such chivalrous thoughts, QuestMan took Tutoria’s arm and gave her a nod and reassuring smile, even as he admitted to himself he wasn’t sure what kind of tourists would be traveling so intimately to that sort of store in a place like this. “Actually, related to that information… will we need any sort of disguises or code words to enter the shop we’re speaking of?” The earlier conversation suggested whatever RunningMan was trying to pawn off was a shady sort of thing normal brokers wouldn’t touch. That made him dubious that the shops they’d be looking for would be ordinary stores a tourist could just walk in…
"Heh heh heh...I like it!" The glint in Teamster's eye visibly amplified, such was the prospect of multiple shakedowns for her to conduct. Her mitts left QuestMan and Tutoria's shoulders as she strolled over to give GeltMan a tremendously jingly slap on the back. "Alright, you, let's hear it, who are we looking for?"

GeltMan straightened up, chainmail still jangling a bit. "Follow me a moment and I can show ya," he hedged, leading the way out of the alleyways, a different way than they'd entered. A dull roar in the air signalled a large crowd nearby. "The shops move around a lot in the bazaar, so merchants use coloured flags and designs to mark their tents," he explained, waving them to the wall before the alley's mouth.

Here, and everywhere down each side of the horseshoe of buildings, the roads ended. What lay beyond was, in short, a right roaring riot's worth of colour and activity. Pavilion tents in an eye-scorching variety of colours rose stories upon stories over the rooftops they peered out from. Each was designed so garishly as to be completely distinct from everything around it, not an easy feat given the volume the horseshoe encompassed.

"Okay, flags," GeltMan, reminded them (or perhaps himself), giving his head a shake and turning his back on the dizzying display. Counting off on his fingers, he listed "One of the ones you're looking for's my Operator's sister's husband's cousin's Navi. He flies a sunburst with a Zenny coin; bit of a putz, but you'll be fine, just mention you know me and he'll bring you round back. He's got all sorts of goodies you might find useful, as long as you're looking. Another guy, tent covered in vines 'n ladies, he's just greedy enough to buy anything that catches his eye, no matter where it came from. He won't hear anything as long as he's on the shop floor, but you two..."

He stopped, turned to Tutoria and gave her a long, slow look up and down. A quiet snigger leaked from his mouth-grill even as he waved away any concern. "Nothing, it's nothing, you should have no trouble getting backstage, none at all. Ooh hoo hoo...anyway, the last one..." he shuddered like a tambourine, pointing to their right facing out the alley. "The last one's the sort of fella you go to when you don't have nowhere else to go. I'm not quite sure who he belongs to, but I've heard they have very deep pockets, and you don't want to be in them, if you catch my drift. He's got flags patterned with cookies, if you can believe it. Lovely little chocolate chip-"

"The Cookie Club! I've always wanted to bust down their door!" Teamster broke in with a huge grin. GeltMan winced, both from the mitt that clapped down atop his helmet, and the implication that that was where he'd be getting dragged. Pointing right, she called to QuestMan and Tutoria, "Right, you two, I'm going this way! We'll meet back here, by...the watchtower there!" Indicating a collection of lashed-together posts that rose high above the hustle and bustle, the massive woman took two steps and was immediately swallowed by the crowd, GeltMan still dangling in her grip by his helmet.

With Teamster gone, the alley was quiet once more. The bazaar loomed, flags flapping in the wind, crowd surging and rippling like a single entity. Whatever means QuestMan and Tutoria chose to navigate the chaos, it would take some doing to keep from losing their way.
It sounded like GeltMan and Teamster were going to be going after "the Cookie Club," which was the surprising name of the most difficult of their information targets. "V-Very well. I'll entrust that one to the two of you," she nodded, looking to QuestMan to gauge his thoughts.

Truth was, the weirdness went beyond just the cookie-bannered debt sharks. Their first target was, apparently, well-known by GeltMan. In a certain sense, it might be a good thing that they were going and not him. If GeltMan met up with the guy alone, he might decide he would rather help GeltMan jump out on their party, rather than track down RunningMan. On the other hand, she wondered if she was going to have to namedrop GeltMan anyway in order to get information.

The other one, the banner with ladies and vines, didn't sound dangerous, just unsavory. "Altogether, not really a problem," she decided. "Although, I hope that 'anything that catches his eye's doesn't include navis... the last thing I need is to enter for information and end up in chains," she shuddered to herself. Remembering the advertisement for captive elven princesses earlier just made her shudder harder.

Cassiel didn't look particularly worried which Tutoria chose to take gracefully as a sign of confidence instead of a sign that he thought no one was going to bother her because she lacked feminine curves. "Very good," Tutoria agreed, although "very" was perhaps putting it strongly. She closed her eyes for a moment and tried to decide which banner she and QuestMan ought to pursue first...

She didn't really need a bolt in order to decide, but she got a little one anyway. "We should start with the tent of vines and ladies. Call it a hunch," she informed QuestMan, while sending him a private message.


I also have a slight suspicion that GeltMan might be trying to get us into the other tent just so his family can do some business with us. Worse, he might be laying a trap using his family. At the very least, he may have hidden some unfortunate details in reverence to his family. I think we are better off avoiding it if we can.

"If you trust my guidance, let us sally forth!" she encouraged QuestMan, then gave a respectful bow to the others. "Try not to 'bust down the door' if you can help it... if we get dangerous people tailing us, the information gathering will become all the more difficult, and news might spread, causing other shops to close their doors to us," she encouraged Teamster with a hopeful smile. Whatever Teamster decided, Tutoria led QuestMan off in search of a tent with a banner that would probably catch QuestMan's eye even if he wasn't looking for it specifically.

"Now QuestMan, there is no great feet of acting that comes into play-acting a couple. If you must, simply answer questions to that effect, but you needn't offer the information. This includes sticking together, of course," she informed the hero, sticking one finger into the air slightly to indicate he should pay attention. She looked much more like a scholar than a date and probably needed some tips herself. "Also-" she began, before a bolt of lightning interrupted her, scrambling her thought "-we are going to need pet names for each other. I'll just say 'My Hero.' What do you think?" she asked, smiling and awaiting his appraisal while she walked.