Chinggis Marketplace

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 gang...in 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.

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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.
QuestMan led Tutoria forward by the arm to join their guides as they headed towards the sounds of the bazaar again, squinting at the colorful flags that took on new meaning as GeltMan explained. The Navi assumed this would make the function of the tent clear, at first: a zenny coin as a variety store made sense. That picture got murkier as he heard the second. He frowned for a moment, then fixed his confident smile as he saw Tutoria looking to him again. “Tutoria and I are well equipped with assets that ought to open doors in such an establishment,” he agreed, nodding. “Tutoria’s wits and my courage, of course, as well as our coin.” His picture got even murkier as the “Cookie Club” was announced as the most threatening. To this one, he only gave Tutoria a raised eyebrow and a shrug, hoping she wasn’t expecting him to understand.

Tutoria had already chosen where they should venture first. QuestMan had to admit that sounded like the more exciting of the two, but the choice was a surprise: after all, if the first lead panned out, they wouldn’t need to visit the second at all. Then again, the darker depths of the bazaar could be a better place to find a shady item. Tutoria provided even more convincing evidence. QuestMan simply gave her a nod to show his agreement. “We’ll head there immediately. Good hunting, Lady Teamster.” He said a silent prayer for his ally, her captive, and whoever got in her way as she passed into the crowd.

After that, QuestMan was left alone in the crowd with his partner, listening attentively to her advice. He had to admit, he didn’t have much experience to lean on, and the last thing he’d want to do is blow their cover… although he still wasn’t entirely certain why they were undercover. He kept nodding along, but suddenly went blank as thunder struck. Probably unknowingly, Tutoria had found one of his weak points: immediately, his walk stiffened and his face grew red as he worked to keep his expression cool. “That’s-“

”REVELATORY,” his sword spoke up, perhaps trying to warn the two it made no sense to use such on-the-nose terms of endearment if they were attempting to hide their identities.

“No, perfect,” QuestMan finished, still focusing his gaze hard on nothing in particular ahead of him. “Surely no one could doubt your affection with such a perfect pet name… Oh! And of course, I will call you… ‘My Princess,’” he replied, giving her a debonair grin with some effort.

“Ahem, no,” his operator suddenly piped up. “’Tutoria’ is absolutely never a princess. That role is just too wrong. Try something else, please, QuestMan.”

The Navi fumed inwardly, sure he’d made the perfect response only to have it stepped on. “Hmm. ‘Sweetie,’ then,” he said, blushing a bit more heavily.

“I don’t like it,” Kelsy declared, wincing. “Has a hero ever said something so cheesy? Mm, no.”

“Darling,” he offered, now starting to feel like he was trying to win a game rather than come up with something he liked.

“Doesn’t feel right for you, does it? Not like something your character would say,” Kelsy dismissed him, crossing her arms.

”BETROTHED-”

“No,” Kelsy and QuestMan both interrupted Macguffr impatiently. Both were quiet for a moment until Kelsy chimed in again. “Why not just ‘My Lady?’ The right answer is the most natural, hm?”

“Ah, of course,” QuestMan said with a tight smile, losing some of his buzz. “Well, ‘My Lady,’ I wonder if there might be some way to get a better look at the bazaar rather than scouting every vendor from the ground? If you’re open to it, we might start by heading to the watchtower. If we don’t find our target on the way, I might be able to climb it and scout from a bird’s eye view."

"Actually, didn't Lady Tutoria collect a map before? Now, QuestMan, you can't neglect your map as a hero," his operator reminded him gently, seeming in a better mood since he'd heeded her suggestions.

"Quite true," the Navi agreed. If Tutoria would produce the map for him, he'd see if he could find any matching symbols... or, if there were only divisions of the market, at least see if he could determine which might be on track.
With destinations and pet monikers in place, QuestMan and Tutoria appeared by all accounts fully committed to their performances. If they were, perhaps, a tad lacking in experience with espionage, Tutoria was certainly willing to trust in her guidance, and QuestMan in his party's collective wisdom. The rough paper map, once provided, snapped to attention in QuestMan's hands, and unfurled as the two Navis leaned over it to get their bearings.



If the map was any indication, there were only two destinations its creators thought merited any attention. One could only be a caricature of the titular KhanMan's leering face, plastered onto an alarmingly large marker towards the far end of the market. The other, a tiny, unassuming chocolate chip cookie, sat dead centre in a cluster of uneven lines like a spider keeping its web - likely the thoroughfares they were caught in. The small markers spaced down the length of the horseshoe weren't labelled, but a quick glance at the nearest watchtower confirmed a large 'E' on a hanging banner. If nothing else, the two Navis knew where they were now.

Stymied as far as actually finding their location went, our hero moved on to the adventurer's staple of 'climb something tall, grid search until you find something shiny'. The crowds thinned out somewhat as they shuffled down the edges of the broad road to Tower E, giving Tutoria room to stand at the tower's base as QuestMan proceeded to find himself a way up. While rickety at first glance, the tri-pronged structure was lashed together with a trellis-like structure that, to the intrepid hero's adventurer senses screamed ladder.

In seconds, his feet were off the ground, scampering up the wooden beams like he was created for the job. Somewhere in QuestMan's deepest processes, something intrinsically heroic in him was greatly satisfied. The higher he got, the more the camp opened up before his eyes. The pointed tops of the tents almost seemed as waves in a multicoloured sea, bisected by writhing snakes of crowd. As QuestMan found himself a suitable perch and scanned the big tops, a flash of green and red caught his eye, a ways down the road that led to Tower G. He leaned out for a closer look.

The tent looked back. From out behind a thick (and literal) red curtain of hair hanging from the tentpole's peak, there peeked a long, rolling curve of a woman. From QuestMan's great distance away, all he could see of her were tantalising glimpses of skin seldom revealed in polite company, woven so seamlessly into the vines around her as to present the illusion that he'd caught her changing behind them. She raised a hand to her mouth, glimmering lips a perfect 'o' of affronted shock; her eyes, smoky and coy, were throwing a very different story across the market for QuestMan to pick up on. This high up, he was alone but for his thoughts, his Operator, and this stolen moment - the woman tossed her head high and levelled him with an expectant stare.

"Oi!" The moment was shattered by a sudden motion from above QuestMan's head. It was a moment only Tutoria had the luxury of bearing witness to, as the only person in the area actively watching the tower. A fearsome-looking CustomNavi had peeked over the side of his guard's perch, heavy enough in his green armour to sway the whole watchtower in doing so. "What the dickens are you doing down there? Have a little respect for a guy's workspace, will ya! Climbin' up private property, I tell ya..." Grumbling, he made to climb down to apprehend the would-be perp - the tower creaked ominously.
QuestMan's efforts caused Tutoria to chuckle into one glove. "I'm happy you approve! I know this whole business is silly, but we must keep as straight-faced as we can in order to seem like a natural couple sightseeing and not a hero and guide on some sort of quest," she reminded him, trying not to laugh as he struggled to come up with a name that his operator wouldn't shoot down. "I must agree- it's the most natural and, thankfully, perfectly suited to our task," she agreed with Kelsie's assessment.

"Flip, QuestBoy's whipped from both sides," Cassiel thought to himself with a critical expression, as though he himself wasn't currently pretending to be a good worker and interested in video games in order to enter his boss's good graces. "Feel a little sorry for him. Dude needs to get laid like nobody I ever seen..."

Heedless of Cassiel's concerns, the two navis decided that, in true adventurer fashion, the map would be their starting point. Something about inspecting a map with QuestMan gave her a cozy, nostalgic feeling; this seemed, strangely, a little more natural than giving him advice all the time as a guide. Quickly, they managed to get a sense of their surroundings by spotting a nearby "E" that matched the one on their map. The fact that they were already this far from the front bulletin board spoke to how crazy the earlier incident with Teamster had been.

QuestMan decided to ascend a watchtower and use the map; in combination, his vantage point and the map ought to give him a pretty good idea of exactly where they needed to be. She stayed at the bottom, given that the structure looked unstable enough that it was best climbed by someone with higher Dexterity than hers, so to speak... or, at the very least, not by two people at once.

The G tower would correspond with where they needed to go to reach the Cookie Club. Tutoria was content with the idea that he must be spying it now, not knowing what additional details he might be spotting. Cassiel probably would have invested a little more interest in the mission as well if he had a look from QuestMan's point of view. As for Tutoria, she was currently more interested in the guy who'd shown up above QuestMan... that guy didn't look like he had any business standing in a rickety tower, especially not one with a second occupant.

Tutoria saw no need to make a scene or aggravate the man any further, and knew that, if the tower was labeled similarly to the E one, QuestMan must have found the G tower pretty quickly. There was no need for them to linger, especially not in any fashion that might cause the E tower to collapse around them all. As if anticipating that scenario, she took a great many steps away from the tower, then cupped her hands to her mouth. "Sorry to bother you, sir! We were just a little lost! My Hero, I believe we should take our leave!" she encouraged QuestMan, then made a few motions with her arm to indicate for him to come with her. She wasn't sure if he was fully aware just how rickety that tower was looking, from ground level.

If QuestMan complied and got down quickly, and if the guy didn't bother them further, and, of course, assuming the tower hadn't collapsed and smashed them both, she'd hurry along with QuestMan towards the overtly exciting sight he'd seen in the center of the area.
At the base of the tower, QuestMan rubbed his gloves together, tilting his head to gaze up the tower and confirm the lattice he needed to climb didn’t suddenly stop short. Satisfied, he gave Tutoria a thumbs-up, wanting to convey that, yes, this was a task, but, no, it wasn’t too hard a task for him. Thanking the gods of adventurers that he’d finally been confronted with a task where he could showcase his fitness without having to halt a woman twice his size, QuestMan began clearing rung after rung on his ascent with a pep in his step. “I don’t suppose there’s a princess waiting for me at the top of this,” he joked to himself, quickly finding himself at a high enough height to begin scouting.

The hero was glad he’d checked the map before climbing: comparing what he was now seeing with what the map had shown, it was easy for him to use landmarks and get his bearing on where the seductive tent that beckoned him must be. “Funny… by a trick of sight, one would almost mistake it for-“

With a start, the Navi realized what he was looking at must indeed be a woman… or contain a woman…? In any case there was definitely something in there that called to him as an awakened young man, and not just on a metaphorical level. The hero made a laughable “who, me?” gesture, pointing to himself as if needing confirmation at this height he was the one being addressed.

Just as he was beginning to come to terms with what he was seeing, he was given a new perspective. That is to say, he was getting a diagonally tilted perspective as he clung to the tower a bit more desperately, hugging it with both hands as it began to lean. “Whoa, good sir!” he cried out, as much a greeting as a frantic warning to the guard addressing him. “P-pay me no heed, I will be departing immediately!”

QuestMan felt certain this statement would prove true: he quickly began scrambling down the side of the tower to make sure the gravity of the Net didn’t make this happen more swiftly than he could. As he descended, QuestMan made an effort to scramble to a side opposite his would-be captor’s lean, trying to ensure that if the tower were to collapse, he would at least be on top of it and not beneath.

He couldn’t say why, but the Navi had been certain Tutoria was going to ask him to make a leap of faith down into her arms, likely leaving the two of them in a painful heap. ”Haha, to picture something so preposterous,” he chuckled to himself, ignoring the fact that he’d almost certainly do it or anything else if she really asked.

The Navi had confidence he’d be able to get down faster than his pursuer: assuming that confidence had been well-placed, he’d land more or less gracefully before hurrying to Tutoria to hook her arm in his and lead begin leading her where he’d seen. “Hopefully, our friend is only interested in pursuing me so long as I’m trespassing. Let us make haste, mustn’t keep the lady waiting,” he would mutter quietly.

”THE LADY TUTORIA,” Macguffr would boom, accusingly.

“Yes, yes, that Lady of course, only we are incognito so please be discrete,” QuestMan would hush his sword, smiling thinly as he tried to maneuver through the crowds with his Lady in tow.

Of course, all of this was operating under two assumptions: one, that the heavily armored guard would not catch up, in which case he'd need to reconsider the options of fight-or-flight once more; and two, that the tower didn't swiftly give way to regrettable structural weakness, although the consequences of that would be less about consideration and more about constitution.
The temptingly ladder-shaped tower gave one long, final wooden creeeeeak of warning...and was promptly heeded with a swift Escape from QuestMan, stage down. The tower's guardian, already irritated, became even more so when his apprehended miscreant did not meekly accept his fate, and wait for his jailer to climb down for proper apprehending (how he thought to do this on an already-complaining tower was anyone's guess). By the time QuestMan rejoined the Lady Tutoria on the ground and set off, arm-in-arm, he was still picking a mincing path down the ladder. Between the heavy sag of his armour and his panicked yodeling, he was having quite a time of it.

In moments, QuestMan and Tutoria were on the boulevard. A tide of people swept through the street, everyone going a different direction, blind to all but their business. It was only natural that they stayed close, and locked hands tight to brave the crowd - they were liable to be swept off otherwise. To get anywhere in Chingghis Market, it seemed one needed to know precisely where they were going. Luckily for them, QuestMan did, and so their steps cut them through the sea of shoppers, and onward to victory.

The spoils of victory came in many forms, and today they came to QuestMan in a familiar tent. Covered in textile creations so lifelike, there appeared by all rights to be a cutout of deepest jungle in the middle of the camp. Navis avoided the entrance, laden with more guards like the one they'd stumbled upon earlier, and gathered around the walls, where silken women examined the would-be patrons. The only people entering were those gifted silken handerchiefs by the watching ladies. It seemed they would have to find a way in...or so it seemed, until a fluttery twirl of red settled to the ground right at QuestMan's feet. High, high atop the tent's peak, the red-headed woman's expectant look was still unmistakable, nor was the gentle, beckoning, bouncy sweep of her arm toward the entrance.

It might have been Tutoria's imagination, but the looks she was getting from the ladies in the wall felt more like being sized up.

Entering proved as simple as walking in. The hustling noise of the Net was all at once gone, replaced with smoky ambiance, low coaly light, the echoes of breathy sighs. An elegantly-robed Navi beckoned the duo forward with an ear to ear leer,. "Welcome, welcomebh to the Lemongrass Pavilionbh!" he burbled, his voice sounding strangely waterlogged. "I am called Solonian.EXEbh! Please, step inside - I've collected many curiosities and even more pleasuresbh! Whatbh can my humble estabhlishment doooo~," his little nasty smirk becomes a big nasty grin, "-for youuu~?"
It was in Tutoria's nature to question and to answer questions... questions such as "why would such a heavily armored, weighty individual be placed upon such a rickety old tower?" Perhaps it was the first time he had been stationed there and no one had yet had time to consider the peril? Even as the question played upon her mind, she dismissed it. Not important. What was important was hurrying through the crowd to lose him. She lifted the skirt of her robe slight to aid her elfen-quick movements and keep pace with QuestMan. The brisk pace made holding hands perhaps less exciting than it normally might be.

Tutoria immediately noticed their ill fortune as the two of them reached the tent QuestMan had spotted earlier: namely, the guards here looked very similar to the pissed off one chasing her. It was quite possible they would soon receive a report of two tower-climbing rascals dressed in armor and robes, seen headed this direction. She could only hope that the guy was delivering this message by foot and not by remote communication; the net was a little fickle in that regard and she could imagine it being done either way.

So caught up was Tutoria in that possible future that she barely noticed the risque appearance of the giant lady beckoning them inside the tent. What was harder to ignore, however, were the many women all about who were looking at her strangely. She wasn't sure if it was because she was the only modestly dressed woman in the vicinity or because she was the only woman period... it appeared to be a more popular haunt for men. Well, no... everyone was avoiding the entrance. It seemed to be a surprisingly unpopular place in general, by that metric. She simply held her heavy book to her chest and walked a little quicker, but she wouldn't be deterred from entering in.

The inside of the tent was actually a pretty welcome respite, in terms of getting away from onlookers, noise, and dust. As it turned out, though, the company might be less than agreeable. "Wisdom says not to judge by appearances... but..." she thought to herself with a smile accompanied by a slight wince, finding it hard to accept the guy's manner of speech coupled with his ominous expression. She decided to send QuestMan a private message, bearing her immediate thoughts:

Quote

I'm sure you noticed all the guards by the door. If RunningMan is of such I'll repute in this marketplace as one must believe, there are only two possibilities: he either would be turned away if he tried to dash in here, or else, he would be quickly hidden as someone in cooperation with the establishment. I think our first goal should be to divine if our host is even aware of RunningMan. Unfortunately, he seems like the type who will be more talkative if we agree to... buy... something. Whatever it is he sells.


Tiny jolts of electricity lit up above her head as her damaged memory conveyed several different terrible ideas for how to approach the situation. She plucked one put and presented it. "Well met, Solonian. My companion here was very interested to inquire about your services. Perhaps you have some sort of demonstration you provide your customers?" she inquired, patting QuestMan's arm to reinforce the possibly needless cover story she had concocted. If he looked at her like it was odd she'd be seeking such a thing for her boyfriend, a spark shooting over her head provided another answer. "It's his birthday, you see! Ha ha... Would you terribly mind giving us a tour?"

For now, she knew that if they were harboring RunningMan, asking anything about his whereabouts straight away was begging for trouble from all those armed guards outside. The best she could do for now was to open more of the area up and see if she spotted him hiding somewhere, or perhaps another good source of information.
QuestMan did his heroic duty in holding onto Tutoria’s hand, shouldering through the throng in order to reach their destination. So far, there hadn’t been any hitches in their plan… However, it was still unclear if they were working towards real progress or a dead end. That said, QuestMan more than one motivation for their current course.

The Navis came to a stop as they considered the obstacle among the exotic scenery in front of them. From the best QuestMan could put together, the crowd at the walls was full of prospects seeking tokens of favor from the women he had to assume worked within. The guards, of course, were probably positioned to act as bouncers for any gate-crashers muscling in without a token. Unfortunately, these ones didn’t have any inconveniently-proportioned towers to contend with, either.

While QuestMan strained his brain thinking of how he would make his approach, his friend-in-high-places threw him another lifeline. ”This handkerchief is surely my ticket in,” he thought to himself, running what response to her generosity would be most appropriate through her head before ultimately settling on a mouthed “thank you” and quickening his pace to keep up with Tutoria. For that matter, he observed his ally discretely to see if she’d had any reaction to the lovely lady who seemed so keen on him, as she must surely have noted her by now. Tutoria seemed to have other things on her mind, though, so he regretfully wasn’t treated to that.

Inside, QuestMan had imagined (hoped?) he would be treated to a receptionist as inviting as the women outside. What he got instead was Solonian, a transparently crooked shopkeeper. Instinctively, QuestMan took a step forward to put Tutoria behind. Since she took the lead in speaking, though, he realized this was a bit too blatantly defensive of a posture and stepped back in line.

Tutoria’s approach caught him off guard, as he’d been expecting they’d be probing for information. As far as information on the Pavilion’s services, there was really only one that had been flaunted in front of them… in truth, he was ninety percent certain he was being interpreted as having brought a ware to sell for that service, himself. That said, if he thought about it for a second, he had to admit they must have some trade business as well: otherwise, this tent probably wouldn’t have been recommended to them.

In a place like this, QuestMan needed a friend with some information. Right now, the one she thought might be most likely to have that information was the woman who had seemed keen on him before and who seemed uniquely posted to keep an eye on the comings and goings of the tent. He wasn’t oblivious to the possibility he was being lured into a trap… but every minute he engaged aimlessly with Solonian he felt surer he’d be lured into another, regardless.

As such, QuestMan made a point of displaying the handkerchief he’d picked up prominently but idly, waving it idly in his off hand while speaking. “Oh yes, we’ve heard there are all kinds of things to see here, and I’m hoping to treat myself! Haha ha… do you have any of those, such, um, treats?” he trailed off, cursing the nerves he thought he’d stifled but had surfaced in the weak delivery of his line.