Seventeen

“Is this really necessary?” Yun asked, sitting in a chair as a hairdresser went and fixed up the parts she had haphazardly cut. 

”It would be rather more convenient for us if you weren’t so easily recognizable. Olivia has already seen you like you were.” 

”Fine,” she relented, the snipping of scissors already putting her at ease. There was something about letting others handle her hair that always felt comforting, and the deft fingers of the stylist felt 

“Well, I have some work to do. Meet me here after you’re done, ‘Kay?” Alexis said, handing Yun a slip of paper before twirling out of the building. 

The cut took some time, but it was the dying that took the longest. Careful hands applying solvent that would remove the hasty black dye from her hair, then applications of freezing cold goop that smelled oddly nice, followed by cycles of waiting, rinsing, and drying. To be honest, she had just been sitting there while people were working, but Yun was already exhausted. 

At the end of the process, her hair had been tidied up significantly, not cut sharply, but just patching up the particularly messy strands she had left before. The color of her hair had taken a soft silver hue. There was something she couldn’t quite place about how to feel about it, but she didn’t hate it.

“How much?” Yun asked.

“Don’t worry. Mx. Marley has already covered the costs,” the stylist responded. 

“Could you tell me the- actually nevermind,” Yun reconsidered, then started gathering her things. She checked the slip of paper, seeing the address of a clothing shop. Of course.

She started walking towards the appointed address passing through the streets of Seventh City. It was a city with a long history, densely packed buildings built and rebuilt and rebuilt until the architecture no longer made any sense when taken as a whole. Despite the general lack of fertile farmland, the city was built upon a rich vein of magical ore, allowing for the construction of massive greenhouses that remained seeded throughout the city, bubbles of green and red amidst a city of tall, earth-colored buildings. 

Lights were everywhere, not the softly glowing, strung lanterns of New Moon Port, but metal poles that radiated a certain hum to which the whole city marched. Seeing the lanterns reminded her, again, of her lost staff. She sighed, unconsciously following the flow of the threads that began to spring up around her. It was easier for her to lose herself in this kind of place. To not have to manipulate the flow of luck, but simply to immerse herself in it, to let it guide her. She floated comfortably in the drift, closing her eyes and letting the sounds carry her. 

She ended up in front of the clothing store, a brightly lit establishment with plenty of windows. The sign read ‘Black Cat’ in plain lettering, an accompanying logo of a cat’s silhouette beside it. The door had one of those bells attached to it that rang to announce her arrival. 

Already standing there was Alexis, chatting with a woman who must have been the owner of the shop. She was dressed in an understated way—warm, autumnal colors and simple geometry complementing her natural, earthly beauty. Striking, to say the least. Yun snapped back to attention when she heard Alexis snapping. 

“Oi. Stop ogling and introduce yourself.”

“Sorry. I’m Yun.”

”Annette. A pleasure.” 

They shook hands and Yun noted how Annette’s were solid, well-maintained, but nevertheless hardened by years of work. She supposed hers were much the same, though not nearly as well maintenanced. 

“I’m told you’re an old friend of Lexi’s. That means you’re a friend of mine. Oh gods, isn’t that a tired old line,” she laughed. “Anyway. We have some clothes for you to look through. I hope you like them.”

Annette snapped and a procession of outfits modeled on mannequins were wheeled out. There were adventuring outfits, casualwear, formal wear, all clearly enchanted. Alexis looked over the selection with great interest. They whistled, impressed. 

“Enchanted clothes’ve come a long way in the last couple years,” they mused.

”Har har. Very funny,” Lexi said, undoing the clasps and buttons to free one of the outfits. 

“Too egotistical to admire my own work?”

“Too bad your fashion sense is stuck a century ago.” 

“Ouch.” 

“I suggest this one,” she said, gesturing to an outfit that seemed just right for Yun’s sense of style. High-waisted pants, turtleneck undershirt, comfortable shirt and vest, suspenders. It seemed easy to move in, encouraged blood and mana flow, and, according to Annette, it could even repair tears and constrict to apply pressure to open wounds. Gruesome, but handy. 

“No objections,” Yun said. It honestly seemed distressingly well-suited to her, no doubt due to some influence on Alexis’s part. 

“Perfect. I’ll have it wrapped for you. Oh, and be sure to allow some time for it to settle once you put it on.”

“What does that mean?”

”The special manafibers this is woven with can defend you from blows, like a mana barrier.”

“Right.” Just like older classifications of enchanted armor. 

“Except this material is special and can absorb a LOT of mana. I’d say you might want some food and rest after the first time you put it on.” 

“Ah.”

“Oh. Put this one on first,” Alexis said, pointing to a dress. 

“Why?”

“For dinner, of course. You gonna show up dressed like that?” Alexis gestured at Yun’s battered clothes. 

“Is this going to drain my mana, too?”

“No. This is just a dress,” Annette said.

“Holy shit, that’s like the first shower I’ve had in weeks,” Yun said, sitting down at the table across from Alexis. She wasn’t quite so comfortable in these more formal clothes, but it was surprisingly fun to dress up nonetheless. Far less fun was having a gaggle of maids attend to her after the ordeal she’d already been through today. No matter what, Yun thought, she would never get used to just how much money Alexis could throw around. 

“Glad to hear you’re comfortable,” Alexis said, wearing a dress that seemed perfectly suited to their style. Simple and to the point, and devastatingly well made. Clean, organic lines, gold accents, all leading down to pointed heels that looked knife-edge balanced. Golden triangle earring dangling off one ear. She had to admit it was the most striking they’d ever looked. To her, at least. 

“Clothes, a haircut, a nice dinner. If I didn’t know you any better, I’d think you were trying to court me,” Yun said.

They laughed the same laugh she’d heard a thousand times, sheer amusement made manifest. Like there was nothing funnier in the world. 

“Oh please. I know I’m not your type. And we both know there’s no room in your heart for me,” they said. 

“Geez, I can’t even tell if you’re kidding or not. I thought you were ace.” 

“I am.” 

“Kidding or-“

“Both, yes.” Alexis smiled and, for the first time, Yun felt like she really felt it reach their eyes. “But perhaps I could make an exception for you?” 

That was a joke, of course.

”Ew,” Yun said, smiling the edge off her words. 

The food began to arrive and it captivated Yun instantly. Even the aroma coming off the plates indulged her senses and immersed her into the world to come. Clear soup so hearty and savory she would gladly drown in it. A steamed egg so soft she was afraid it would be obliterated if she bit down too hard. A picturesque cut of meat with grill marks so perfect they seemed fake. It was crunchy, tender, juicy, smokey, and everything that was right with the world. Potatoes swimming in cheese and cream, gods, even the vegetables were vibrant and refreshing. Yun was floating. 

This wasn’t the kind of meal she got to enjoy regularly, wouldn’t even really know what to do with it if she could, honestly. But for this one, singular moment, everything seemed right. 

“You always seem so happy when you’re eating,” Alexis noted, sliding their fork down to cut a clean segment of a pristinely standing chocolate dessert. It wasn’t too sweet at all, in fact more bracingly bitter in a way that set the stomach at ease—almost medicinal. 

“Food is good.”

“So it is.” 

”…” 

“…”

“Consider today my apology.” 

“You? Apologizing? Is the world going to end tomorrow?” Yun asked, fork halfway to her mouth.

“Hey, you never know. We saved the world once, who’s to say it won’t need saving again.”

“Are you implying you’ll carry that weight again?”

“Are you implying you won’t?” 

It was easy for them to say. Alexis was one of those people for whom any endeavor they set out to accomplish, they would succeed—the exact opposite of her. 

“Listen Alexis, I wasn’t meant to be there.”

“But you were there.” 

“And I-“

“Killed Nari? You and I both know that’s not true.” Alexis swirled the wine in their glass, staring into its reflective surface. They brought the glass up to their lips and took a long drink, returning an empty glass to the table.

“Look. I’m sorry. About everything that’s happened,” they said.

“…”

“Oh, and those couple times I tried to kill you. You know how it is.”

Yun nodded.

“I promise I’m on your side this time.”

“That means a lot, really,” Yun said. “But seriously. Dressing me nicely and taking me out to a fancy dinner. You just hold all the keys to my heart, don’t you.”

“Isn’t it a little more fun when I get your heart pounding? Besides, the only person easier to woo than you is Olivia.” 

“You’re a menace to society.”

“Now we’re talking!” They cheered, pouring another glass of wine.

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