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 How Do You Like Them Apples?

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Peter Dunnage

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PostSubject: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Thu Jan 24, 2013 3:41 am

Time was running short for Peter Dunnage. Already, he had been traveling Unda for roughly a year, dawdling here and there, revisiting certain places, and generally smelling the flowers. As pleasant as his journey had been, he knew very well that everywhere he went, someone knew who he was. He was not being spied on, per se - just kept under surveillance. It was vastly preferable to the alternative, with the alternative being some sort of imprisonment, but the knowledge did ensure that no matter what he was doing, he knew at the back of his mind that someone was watching. In towns, at least.

They didn't interfere with him in any way, of course, besides spiking his paranoia. That had been part of the deal he had struck with the Undan government and he knew that this was their way of sweetening the pot. Look at your freedoms, man! Enjoy yourself! And maybe, if you're up to it, destroy an entire people! It was all a lot of bullshit, but Peter had accepted their hospitality and taken full advantage of it anyway. Truth be told, he had no better plans and no good answer to give his temporary benefactors. He was not prepared to reenter war, nor was he prepared to make a run for it. The choice they had given him had been an illusion and he knew it. They held all the cards and though they wanted to keep him willing, it wasn't entirely necessary. The year he had spent had probably given them enough time to craft a good contingency plan against him.

These were the bitter thoughts Peter Dunnage tossed back and forth as he wandered down the main market street of a small coastal town, hands shoved deep into his pockets, eyes scanning the ground. Funds were extremely low as well, judging by the few coins he rubbed together. He had spent a good portion of his recent earnings on a wild night in the last village he had stopped in, buying himself a fancy room in a fancy inn, a gigantic meal, and drinks for everyone he met that night. Pete didn't invest much time in forethought - if he did, he probably would have been in a much more manageable situation all around.

That had been roughly two days ago. Since then, he had not showered, shaved, slept indoors, or eaten a substantial meal. He did not need a mirror to know he looked absolutely wretched - even staring at the ground, he could see the retreating feet of the afternoon shoppers as he walked through. Here, he was in a pickle. A performance would turn his luck around, to be sure, but he hardly had the energy. Hunger was making him grumpy and no one liked a grumpy storyteller. They would accept his stubble and unkempt hair, but not grumpiness.

A particularly alluring fragrance caught his attention. He lifted his head and sniffed the air, spinning in place to find its source. At this point, he knew very well the tastes and scents Undan cuisine had to offer: sea and citrus. Among the snack stands, there was a wide variety of both. Smoked salmon, sweetened into candy. Dried cuttlefish, cut into chewy strips. Candied lemon and orange slices. Thin slices of assorted, raw fish marinated in lime and herbs, dusted with chilis so spicy that even he could feel the heat. Fermented fish sauces, borrowed from Seran recipes. All of it fresh and light and overwhelmingly healthy. What he was smelling now, however, rose above all the pungent odors, rich and sweet. More than that, it was familiar. The nostalgia struck him right in the gut, amplifying the hunger pains.

He stopped before the stand, literally wiping the drool from his chin as his eyes scanned the advertisement, pinned to the salt-eaten wood, Caristian on top translated into messy Enish on bottom. Fresh Caramel Apples - An Exotic Ignese Delicacy! As a child, he and his rapscallion friends had pilfered so many of these from the local stands that half of them had to close. It had been ages since he had an apple and even longer since he had enjoyed caramel. His eyes dropped to the price and immediately, his heart sank. Fifteen bronze?! They might as well have been selling jewelry.

The man behind the stand was a portly fellow, obviously of Ignese origin. Recognizing Pete's interest and appearance, he wrinkled his nose.

"Go away."

"How do you know I'm not going to buy one?" Pete replied, frowning.

"Do you have fifteen bronze?"

"I might."

"You don't. Move along, you're scaring people away."

And so Peter did move along, cursing under his breath as he did. So the fellow wanted to be rude to a potential customer, eh? Obviously, the man had no idea who he was talking to (not that Peter wanted him to, but still). After a hundred feet or so, he glanced back over his shoulder. The portly gentleman was busy with a wealthy woman and child. Perfect. Pete darted off to the side and sneaked closer, weaving between stands, under curtains, and behind salespeople until he reached the stand once again, crouched against a side panel. Anonymity was truly a beautiful thing.

He had stolen before, sometimes openly, sometimes discreetly, but he had never been stopped by his unseen watchers. Peter could only assume they didn't care very much. It wasn't as if he stole much or often - just enough to survive when times were rough. Times were rough now, but his motivations behind this thievery were equal parts necessity and revenge. Focusing on a small point in the sky above the market street, he cocked his fingers into a pistol approximation and pointed. He summoned as small an amount of power as he could manage into his index finger and shot.

There was a small recoil in his wrist - he would never understand why that happened - and a hiss as a stream of small sparks flew from his hand and into the sky, exploding with a crack into a fountain of color. Everyone stopped in their tracks, including the apple seller and his customers. "Oohs" and "aahs" and "what the hell?'s" filled the air, but Peter had no time to enjoy the awe and surprise. Popping his head up from his hiding spot, he eyed the rack upon which the apples were displayed, with little sticks coming out of them for grasping. He snatched three and began to walk away hurriedly, already sinking his teeth into one. Oh, it was worth it. The buttery caramel adhered to his lips and tongue immediately, the richness cut by the crisp tartness from the apple, juice and sugar mingling in his mouth. Slightly salty, unctuous, sweet, crunchy. He actually closed his eyes, it tasted so wonderful.

By then, the ruckus he had caused had already faded for the Ignese man, who had probably seen fireworks plenty of times. While everyone else still stared toward the sky, awaiting further explosions, Caramel Apple Guy was staring down at his wares, pissed as all get out.

"What the hell...?! Who--STOP, YOU!"

Peter froze in place, wincing. He didn't have to turn around to know exactly where the man was pointing. Plan B. What was plan B again? He swept his eyes back and forth before pointing to a woman walking in front of him.

"It was her! Definitely her! Saw it with my own eyes!"

Oh, shit. Not a good move on his part. He could have easily caused another distraction, but instead, he had fingered someone else and not very convincingly either. For this to work, it would depend entirely on the man's stupidity --

"Thanks! Hey, LADY! STOP RIGHT THERE!"

He shoved the apples into his pockets, using his coat as cover, and wiped his mouth with his shoulder. Sure, the apples would be covered in a bit of lint later, but lint had never killed anyone (as far as he knew).
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Iris Ravelli

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PostSubject: Re: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Fri Jan 25, 2013 3:29 am

It was like seeing the world for the first time, with perfect and undiluted clarity. This was far from Iris' first trip to the market, but she had never felt truly free to enjoy the experience until today. Despite her mother's intense desire to make her into a homebody and keep her out of trouble, someone had to shoulder the responsibility of bringing home provisions for the two of them while Iris' brother and father were away, and her mother wasn't accustomed to leaving the house if such a journey could be reasonably avoided.

One might imagine that a sheltered girl like Iris would enjoy every scrap of freedom that happened to be tossed her way, but her mother did her best to drain any potential for joy out of the experience. Most of the time, a trip to the market only served to remind Iris of all the opportunities that were not available to her. Her mother would provide her with a list of supplies and she would be expected to procure those items without deviation. In fact, to ensure her obedience, her mother went so far as to calculate the exact price of each item, and she would give Iris no more funding than her estimate deemed necessary.

It is true that if Iris were feeling particularly rebellious, she did have the power to disregard her mother's instructions and simply purchase whatever items caught her eye, but the momentary satisfaction such a transgression might bring would not be worth the serious chastisement she would be sure to receive. To think she was once so hesitant to directly disobey even the most trivial of orders, yet here she was today, with her mere presence in the market serving as form of bold, reckless defiance of expectations. Iris had seriously debated whether or not it was even prudent to show her face in such a public location, but in the end, necessity dictated that she take the risk. Well, maybe necessity along with a good dose of foolhardy pride.

She had managed to save up a somewhat respectable cache of coins of various denominations over the years thanks to the generosity of her father, who often compensated her for the various tasks she performed around the house (seeing as her mother was against her getting a job.) Along with the funds she brought along with her, Iris was also able to appropriate surplus supplies that she believed would not be missed. Still, she was smart enough to know that the perishables she had found would run out rather quickly. There was always a chance that she could lose her way, or be left without a way to renew her resources for extended periods of time. If she really was going to go through with this, she wanted to ensure that she took every conceivable precaution in the event of trouble. So it seemed to make sense that she stock up on as many durable essentials as possible before venturing off into unknown territory.

That, and Iris also desired to experience the thrilling sense of freedom and agency that was sure to come with making unrestricted purchases with her own coin. As far as determining what items were worthy or purchase or collection, she was presently relying on a combination of common sense and insight she gained from reading various adventure novels. She believed she had done her best to acquire the basics; a bed roll for sleeping, food and water for sustenance, clothing, and coin, some rudimentary medical supplies, and even books for entertainment purposes.

The bag that was slung around her shoulder was beginning to feel a bit weighed down, but it was nothing she couldn't handle. She didn't even mind the way it tended to bounce against her hip as she walked; every time she could hear the contents jostle around inside, Iris was pleasantly reminded of the fact that every item she carried with her was something that had been chosen carefully of her own volition. Her main concern was drawing the attention of looters, so she made an effort to conceal her supplies under her traveling cloak. The hood of said cloak currently wasn't drawn up over her face, and she regularly questioned how wise of a decision that was. Her mother was bound to have noticed her absence by now, and it wouldn't be long before she set out to look for her - or at the very least, appointed someone else to perform that task.Would she look for her? Iris wasn't even certain how she wanted that question to be answered, and she didn't intend to hazard a guess.

For now, she would have to err on the side of caution. The hood of her cloak did come with the advantage of keeping her features relatively shrouded from prying eyes, but she ultimately decided it would be best to abstain from using it for the moment. There was always the chance that a strange hooded figure would garner more interest than an average young woman perusing the wares of the market, and she didn't want to inadvertently render herself inconspicuous. She didn't make a habit of socializing here, so she hoped that would afford her some measure of anonymity. Some individuals were bound to recognize her from past visits or even through her family, but she would just have to do her best to maintain the pretense of being a regular shopper until her business was concluded.

With her general plan of action all sorted, Iris felt free to revel in all the sights, smells, and sounds the bustling shopping area had to offer. She tried to make an effort to restrain herself and focus only on what needed to get done, but it was proving difficult to avoid distraction. First of all, she found the weather to be positively delightful. The sun was radiant, and soft golden beams of light were bearing down on her from above and spreading a pleasantly warm sensation across her exposed skin.

Her cloak was only the slightly stuffy in the current conditions, but an occasional absentminded tug at her collar was the only indication that Iris might not have been entirely comfortable with her borrowed attire. The minute details of her surroundings were of greater concern to her today, so it was fairly easy to push minor irritants aside. She had never been provided with a comparable opportunity to contemplate and bask in the simple pleasures of life, so she wanted to make the most of her situation.

Iris almost couldn't fathom how she could be simultaneously experiencing such easy contentment and worrisome paranoia. She was caught between a need to savor her newly discovered autonomy and a conflicting need to quickly resolve her affairs before something or someone impeded her progress. It was also strange to her that she wasn't feeling overly frantic or uncertain.

Iris had even prepared to feel some pangs of home sickness and guilt over what she had done, but none had come. This strange sense of detachment could be attributed to the fact that everything still had a feeling of unreality attached to it; almost as if she were watching events unfolding as a spectator might, while her body acted of its own accord. She was certain that the cracks in her composure would begin to appear once reality set in, but it seemed she was still too close to home and familiar sights. Once she began venturing further from home, would her resolve weaken? Would she regret fleeing from home without properly informing and consulting her family? Most likely, but she found it easier to ignore such matters rather than face them at present.

Just then, a soft breeze rippled through and sent various delectable aromas wafting towards her. Allowing herself a moment of indulgence, Iris closed her eyes and inhaled slowly. She opened her eyes again and sought to identify the source of the heavenly scent that was currently filling her nostrils. Soon she determined that the culprit was a fresh fish stew. Iris and her mother made a variation of it a home, and the unexpected nostalgia sent twisting pangs of hunger and desire straight to her stomach. She maneuvered her way through the crowd to get a closer look and proceeded to gaze down at it longingly. The coins in her bag clinked together, as if intent on reminding her that they were ripe for spending. But she had to fight this particular temptation, as it wasn't practical. Such a meal wouldn't transport well, and it was bound to spoil quickly.

So she grudgingly tore herself away from that particular stall and continued on. Iris began taking in the native and foreign cuisine that was offered, nodding or shaking her head slightly whenever she happened across something that seemed either promising or unsuitable, respectively. Imported goods were of particular interest to Iris. They had always seemed so tantalizing and exotic on her previous visits, but her mother would never permit her to bring home anything but Undan food. There was never any explanation offered, but Iris always assumed that her mother did not want to take the chance of seeing anything that inadvertently reminded her of her original home. Now however, there were no stringent restrictions to abide by. Iris could purchase whatever she wanted, provided that it fit into her budget and suited her needs.

Currently, her attention was being commanded by a stand that offered a unique treat from Ignis: apples covered in a glossy caramel coating. Iris always had something of a sweet tooth, so it was no surprise that the caramel apples caught her eye. She could only recall having caramel about once in her life, on a day her father brought some home as a special surprise for her and Vincent when they were children. The memory of the exact taste had since faded, but she could still recall enjoying it immensely, even though it got stuck in her teeth and adhered to the roof of her mouth. She hovered around near the stall for a few brief moments, behind a scruffy looking man who she assumed to be a vagrant, before being deterred by both the price and impracticality of the snack.

Only marginally disappointed, Iris let out a soft sigh and trudged on in search of items that would actually be of use once her travels officially began. Her hand was hovering over a candied lemon slice that she had managed to convince herself was essential when the ruckus started. A booming voice met her ears, and she turned her head in time to see the proprietor of the caramel apple stand frantically calling after the young homeless man she recalled spotting earlier. What had he done to incite that man's anger? Confusion and concern began to show on the faces of the market patrons, and Iris herself remained similarly still and uncertain until she heard an unfamiliar voice close by.

"It was her! Definitely her! Saw it with my own eyes!"

A collective gasp seemed to be released by the crowd, and it appeared many were beginning to enjoy the peculiar spectacle that had begun to unfold. Mildly interested herself, Iris turned to see if she could discern who had been implicated in some unknown crime. But as she looked around, it slowly dawned on her that all activity in the market had come to an abrupt halt, and countless pairs of eyes were fixed on her. Iris still couldn't fully comprehend what was building around her, but she began to sense danger on an instinctual level. A cold sweat had begun to break out and dampen her skin, and her heart had started to beat in an irregular rhythm - like an uncomfortable fluttering.

Slowly she positioned herself so she could see the man who had issued the accusation, and to her horror, she found that he was pointing directly at her! That was confirmation enough to send panic flooding through her in earnest. Her serene and slightly cautious disposition was utterly shattered, and she found herself overwhelmed by all the fears that she had been suppressing up until that point. Her heart was hammering in her chest, and she felt a substance rise in her throat that very well could have been vomit.

When she did manage to fight off her rising nausea, Iris found that her mouth was quite dry; every time she opened it in an attempt to speak, to protest, to do anything, she ended up just gaping stupidly before shutting her mouth again. It was only when the stand owner himself seemed to officially turn his attention on her did Iris discover she had some measure of control over herself again. The man was pointing a plump, accusatory finger in her direction, and suddenly she found herself overwhelmed by the injustice of it all. How could he possibly think she had done anything wrong? She had only been near his stall for a few seconds before moving on, and she hadn't even touched a single thing.

Iris raised her hands out in front of her with her palms directed outwards in a defensive gesture. The audacity of the stall owner and the man who had falsely implicated her had served to cool her anxiety and inflame her temper instead. Suddenly, she had found her voice. "I don't know what you imagine I've done, but you have the wrong person. I suppose you think I stole. If you're really enough of a fool to take this man's claim as the truth without a shred of evidence, then by all means, try being competent for a change and search my bag!" She paused for a moment with a shuddering intake of breath. Where had that sudden boldness and irreverence even come from? Iris hadn't had an outburst like that since childhood, and she was so accustomed to simply swallowing her discontent that even she was surprised that she was possessed by a need to defend her own honor. Maybe she was so incensed because in a matter of seconds, her promising day had been utterly spoiled.

Iris had held such high hopes for her first day of freedom; she had dreamed of it constantly since childhood. But now she was attracting exactly the kind of attention she had been hoping to avoid, and she was being leered at like she was some common criminal or a strange creature on display. She resented their stares, so full of judgment and false superiority. Angry tears burned in her eyes and blurred her vision; she quickly pulled her hood up to hide her shame. The pressure of the situation was so overwhelming that she could hardly remember to breathe. What was she to do? The stall owner had ordered her to stop, but she had barely moved an inch in quite some time.

Helpless, Iris scanned the crowd like a lost child, hoping to lock eyes with someone who would be willing to be reasonable and come to her defense. Instead, her gaze rested again on the scruffy, unkempt man who had landed her in her current predicament. Possessed by some strange force, Iris found herself charging toward him without really meaning to. She spoke, and the voice that met her ears seemed alien, so self-possessed despite her terror, and so utterly unlike her in every way. "You," she hissed, her gaze narrowing. "You tell them the truth! I'm not some criminal! I haven't done a thing and you know it!" Iris was practically sick with anger and shame over what she had been put through and how uncharacteristically rude and forceful she had been made to act. If he didn't stand up and get her out of this, she didn't know what she would do.
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Peter Dunnage

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PostSubject: Re: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Sat Jan 26, 2013 4:34 am

"I don't know what you imagine I've done, but you have the wrong person. I suppose you think I stole. If you're really enough of a fool to take this man's claim as the truth without a shred of evidence, then by all means, try being competent for a change and search my bag!"

Well. Peter had not really thought past blaming someone else for his crime. He had truly picked his scapegoat at random and now it was very clear that had been a mistake. The situation was quickly getting out of his sticky fingers, not that he had really had a grasp on them in the first place. Worse yet, the girl he had accused seemed to be on the verge of breakdown. Handling hysterical women had never been Peter's strong suit, especially when the hysterical women were pretty. And this girl was pretty. And angry.

It would be best to beat a quick retreat. The two of them could sort it out and by then, Peter would be long gone, out of town, hopefully, enjoying his ill-gotten sweets. He turned on his heel and began tip-toeing away until--

"You! You tell them the truth! I'm not some criminal! I haven't done a thing and you know it!"

He winced and raised both his hands in a placating manner, slowly turning to meet her face as she approached only to realize his fingers were covered in caramel. Caught red-handed. Any thoughts of dashing away while the two battled it out were quickly abolished by this woman's rage. Why, oh why had he not chosen someone more demure to pay for his sins? She was causing a scene, too. Everyone in the immediate area and even some beyond had stopped what they were doing to watch the battle unfold before them. Peter shrunk back a bit, dropping his hands, eyes darting back and forth. Some of these people were his watchers.

When his eyes fell upon the face of the screaming shrew beneath her hood, he saw with a start that there were...tears lining her eyes. Tears? Shit. Guilt wriggled at the back of his mind, gnawing at his conscience. Mercy, if that woman began to cry, he would be completely and utterly useless. Crying made him uncomfortable - crying women absolutely horrified him. It took everything in him not to squirm where he stood. He looked longingly behind him, wishing he could simply dash away. Unfortunately, that was no longer an option. He was the hero of this story and heroes had to save damsels in distress - even if they were the reason the damsels were in distress in the first place.

He looked around again. An audience. Yes, perfect. Peter straightened and shrugged off his jacket, tossing it aside and rolling up his shirt sleeves. People always were more impressed when he rolled up his sleeves while performing tricks. He supposed it made it seem more genuine. That or the ladies simply enjoyed seeing his tanned forearms.

"My lady, it is true." He began grandly, falling to one knee and morphing his expression from one of extreme mortification to that of unspeakable sorrow in a swift moment, arms extended. He let the words flow from him and direct him, though he did not know their aim. "I was wrong to accuse you and for that, I gravely apologize. It was shame that drove me to do it, shame for what I have become. If I had succeeded in my falsehood, I would have laid my head down tonight in agony over what I had done. But your voice, your face, they are the seeds of a thousand memories. I cannot allow you to be punished for my misdeed, but I must explain myself. I cannot bear that you might think ill of me."

Peter glanced over his shoulder. He had even more attention now. Even the apple vendor was confused. A smile caught the edges of Pete's lips, but he tamped them down.

"You see, my lady, in my homelands, I was a soldier." With the last word, a ball of flame erupted from his open right palm. As he stood, the flame stretched and shaped itself into a sword. Gasps rose from the crowd. This was not an uncommon skill in Ignis, but here, it must have been. He twirled the fire blade over his knuckles and around his hand, guiding it without a thought. "An honorable soldier, with skills unrivaled. But I was exiled. Why? For love."

A pause for dramatic effect.

"The love of a princess."

More gasps.

"The princess looked much like you, madam." He began to pace around the woman, still spinning his sword. He lifted his left hand and drew a small circle in the air. As he did, a crown of flame appeared five or so inches over her head, its spires blue and leaping. "Slender and beautiful, with a temper like flame itself." here, the points of her crown jumped higher. Stay still. he mouthed to her, the corner of his lips lifting in a grin again. He allowed it, briefly, and released the flame sword. It disappeared from sight.

"The story of how we met is a tale for a different time. This is the story of how we parted and how I found myself here, stealing caramel apples from an honest man."

By now, the audience was absolutely hooked. If he played his cards right, he would get coins out of this. He drew nearer to his "princess" and pulled her stiff frame into his arms. The crown of flame widened until it was large enough to encompass them both around the middle with enough space so his partner would not be harmed.

"I was fortunate to find that she loved me as well, but that love was not to last."

Abruptly, he released her and stepped back, through the flame. He passed through it without difficulty, clenching his fist and as he did, it extinguished, becoming a ring of smoke instead. The smoke curled and collected into the figure of a man.

"Her father would not allow our love. I was beneath him, and her. My princess' tears and pleas would not move her cold father." A few in the crowd booed. "He banished me. My beloved thought that I had been stationed in another country, but that was a lie her father told to comfort her. The king had sent me to my death."

Peter raised his arms and the smoke figure grew. Its arms lengthened, twisting into claws. The legs extended and cloudy wings began to form from its back. The area where the face might have been protruded until it became a snout and billowing horns sprouted from its head. When the transformation finished, it reared its head back and roared soundlessly, colorful sparks shooting from its mouth. Gasps again, but now, they were gasps of delight and horror and beneath that, whispers of incredible!, amazing!, and dragon! The already fantastical story had skipped right into the most unbelievable sort of fiction, but no one seemed to care.

"I went freely to my death. I was but one man. I could not conquer a dragon."

He stepped forward and the smoke dragon lowered its head until it hovered just before his. From its jaws came a stream of fire that wrapped around Peter's face. He scarcely noticed the heat; it was simply a pleasant tickle. He had learned long ago that flame no longer had any harmful effect on his person. The trick was to aim the flame just so - though his body took no damage, his clothing surely would if he was not careful.

A woman screamed and abruptly, the flame stopped. Another woman fainted. This was what would get him the most coin. His face was still as flawless as it had been before. The crowd clapped and cheered. He waited for them to quiet before he continued, still maintaining his solemn sing-song, projecting his voice even louder.

"But it was not my time. The dragon took pity upon me and was impressed by my bravery."

The smoke dragon stood on its hind legs and, with a flap of its nebulous wings, rose into the sky.

"He allowed me to escape, as long as I promised to run far, far away from my kingdom so as not to dishonor him. Though I longed to return to my princess--"

The smoke changed shape again, this time into the shapely silhouette of a woman, before he allowed the slight breeze to blow it away. Peter looked down, apparently forlorn.

"I could not defy the creature who had granted me mercy. Alas, our destinies would no longer intertwined. I became the penniless wanderer you see today, sharing my wretched story with all in the hopes that I might somehow collect enough charity to survive another day. I could not incite enough pity in the town I visited before this one and thus, I was driven to thievery. Please, my lady, forgive me. You have her face - it would pain me greatly if I did not have your forgiveness. Look upon me with affection so that I might feel her love one last time, before I am taken away for my crime."

He strode to the woman and fell to his knees, grasping her hands in his, chin trembling even as he winked. There was silence for a few beats. Then, wild applause.

"I'll pay for him!"

"Oh, me too!"

"Please, forgive him!"

"No one arrest him!"

The audience rushed forward, some to his coat to drop coin in it, others to the caramel apple stand, brandishing pouches of currency in a desperate attempt to show charity to the poor knight.
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Iris Ravelli

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PostSubject: Re: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Sun Jan 27, 2013 12:05 am

After demanding that he reveal the truth, Iris stood before the man and waited to see if he would rise to her challenge. The situation seemed to be steadily spiraling out of control, but she couldn't bring herself to back down; it was as if something had finally snapped within her. She was also acutely aware of the growing number of spectators this altercation was drawing in, and she was overcome by a strange desire to uphold her good name. Iris had been forced into reticence for her entire life, but now seemed as good a time as any to start speaking her mind.

These people were strangers; she did not owe them her loyalty and obedience, and she did not feel as though they had any right to make a criminal out of her without a shred of proof. It was very likely that she would grow to be ashamed of her actions once the mess was all over and done with, but she was still immersed in her fears and emotion to see any reason. Thankfully she had yet to completely shame herself by sobbing in full view of the public, but she was still distressed and incensed enough that tears were still threatening to spill if she were to be pushed any further over the edge.

The man seemed to be genuinely surprised by her sudden ferocity, and as furious she was at him for being such a deceitful lowlife, she had to admit that she could empathize with his shock. What if her family could see her right now? They wouldn't be likely to recognize whoever she had morphed into in that moment. Their Iris simply nodded and smiled and let her displeasure fester and burn deep inside until it became so unbearable that she cried herself to sleep at night. This Iris was brutal and confrontational, fully willing to make a fool of herself in front of dozens of strangers in order to prove a point. Is this what her mother always feared would happen?

Did the outside world really have such a thoroughly corrupting influence? For the longest time, it had all just seemed like sad, paranoid drivel. Now she wasn't so sure. Perhaps she would have been done well to listen and consign herself to a quiet life at home. She had lost control of her emotions and allowed herself to be swept up in a tide of fear, anxiety, and raw fury.

And the individual standing before her was far from being an upstanding gentleman in any sense, and she found herself feeling overwhelmingly disheartened that he was one of the first people she had the misfortune of encountering. Out of all the people in the vicinity that he could have preyed upon and taken advantage of, why did it have to be her? Not that she would want to wish similar circumstances on any other unsuspecting bystander, but she couldn't help but feel utterly cheated. Why her? What did she do to deserve any of the grief she always got? Were all people so callously opportunistic?

These various questions swirled around in her already addled mind as she waited to see what he would do. Would he redeem himself by doing the good and honest thing and admit to his wrongdoing, or would he simply try to wriggle further out of the disaster he created and leave her to suffer the blame? Iris could only hope that he would have a change of heart and choose wisely. Even if he did abandon her to suffer in his place, it probably wouldn't take long for that gullible moron of a stall owner to ascertain that he had been conned. Still, Iris would prefer to be freed from suspicion entirely, rather than to be accused, searched and humiliated before being absolved of any culpability in the matter.

The true thief raised his hands in front of him in an effort to keep her at a distance, and Iris spied a sticky residue on his fingers that could only be the result of the caramel. She was so outraged by his flippant attitude and unabashed boldness that she opened her mouth with the intention of calling attention to his literally sticky fingers. But further contemplation gave her pause. That seemed like a fairly juvenile tactic, and he seemed as though he'd be sly enough to talk his way out of anything she managed to throw at him. It seemed she was at the mercy of the fool and whatever modicum of decency he hopefully possessed.

She continued to look at him expectantly as she inhaled and exhaled deeply. It was difficult to imagine how she appeared to onlookers; probably crazed and erratic. That was how she felt, at least. Honestly, she wanted to keep her composure, but that was no easy task under the present circumstances. Her nausea had abated and she didn't seem to be sweating as profusely, but her emotions were still swirling tempestuously.

Iris was furious, mortified, and concerned. If she wasn't hauled off for being a thief, it was at least likely that word of this incident would reach her mother, whether people were able to specifically identify Iris as her daughter or not, she would be bound to realize it for herself. Suppose she came down to the market to collect her. What was she to do then? Despite her currently wavering confidence in her choice to leave home, she would not be dragged back like some petulant child. No, this man had to take pity on her. Either that or she would be ruined.

Abruptly, he slipped out of his jacket and threw himself to the floor, kneeling at her feet like a beggar. Iris stumbled back a few steps and felt her back collide with the stall she had been checking out before the chaos set in, and he pressed herself as close to it as she could manage without sitting. It seemed he had her corned. Though he seemed to have reduced himself to a vulnerable position, Iris couldn't help but be wary.

He had already demonstrated that he was a dishonest man, so she couldn't be certain that his motives and intentions were pure. Her eyes flickered back and forth like a wild animal looking for its chance to escape a predator. Such an opportunity did not seem available to her. Iris' heart began to pick up its previously frantic pace, but she wiped away a few stray tears with the heel of her hand in order to avoid appearing too defenseless. It seemed as though she had the advantage over him moments ago when her indignation caught him by surprise, and she did not want to allow him to turn the tables by making her look fearful.

Still, despite her efforts to maintain control, she looked down at him with wide eyes as he began his confession. The elaborate tale he began to spin seemed to grab the attention of the crowd rather quickly, and Iris herself had to admit that she was curious as to what in the world his point was. Ordinarily she absolutely loved a good story, but now was far from the right time for such frivolity. At least that's what Iris kept telling herself as she was drawn into the splendor of his magnificent lies.

Even Iris found herself gasping in awe as a ball of fire materialized in his palm and was manipulated into the shape of a flaming sword. It was painfully obvious to her that he was attempting to work an angle - perhaps he was formulating a diversion that would permit him to flee from the scene without answering for his misdeeds, but despite what her instincts were telling her, Iris remained strangely enraptured like all the other sheep that were eating up his sweet, meaningless words.

The fire itself was a particularly astonishing touch. It wasn't often that fire elementals came to Unda - perhaps they found the close proximity to water and the abundance of water controllers disagreeable - but even the few that did live there never did anything so impressive or creative as this man's display of his talent. Well, not to the best of her knowledge at least. The onlookers seemed sufficiently impressed, so it appeared she was ultimately correct in assuming that a show like this was novel for all of them. Iris watched intently as the flame twisted and twirled around his hand. It seemed her previous fury was momentarily forgotten. Until he rose from the ground, that is.

Once he was level with her again, Iris would herself roughly snapped from her dreamlike stupor. She blinked rapidly in an effort to return herself to sense, and quickly made an effort to move away from the stall she had backed herself up against once she noticed he was moving toward her. This proved to be an ill-fated move, as her relocation to a more open space simply provided him with room to circle her like a shark closing in on a meal. Her head turned this way and that as she attempted to keep up with his movements, but when that proved fruitless, she began to move along with him. Iris did her best to keep in step with him so he was never standing behind her, but he was taking large strides, and it began to appear as though they were performing some sort of bizarre dance routine.

The pacing continued, and she was so rattled, that she couldn't even bring herself to sigh in exasperation when he happened to mention that his mythical princess looked much like her. She wasn't opposed to a well composed love story, but she felt he was being foolishly transparent now. Ever since he began circling around her with his flame sword spinning round at an alarming speed, much of the former mystique had been lost.

Now she was less concerned over the purpose of his fabrication and more concerned with whether or not his antics would cause her to be roasted alive. As that particular thought flitted through her mind, his flame sword vanished and was swiftly replaced with a brilliant flame crown that hovered precariously a few inches above her head. It would have been beautiful if the terror it inspired her wasn't so severe. The sight of it was terribly disconcerting. Iris ceased her movements immediately and bent a little at the knees in order to afford the flames and her head some distance. She turned to him with a pleading expression just in time to see him mouth for her to stay still. Well, she certainly didn't intend on moving any time soon, but she inclined her head slightly, almost imperceptibly, in order to indicate that she understood and would comply.

It appeared that he was indeed orchestrating the show to serve as a clever distraction, but Iris felt slightly reassured of his intentions now that he was making some attempt to communicate with her as he proceeded. Still, in the interest of safety and continued existence, she figured it would be wisest to acquiesce with any future wordless commands and play her assigned role in his little play. Iris could only hope that her reluctant trust in him wasn't horribly misguided and that whatever his ultimate goal happened to be, she would end up profiting as well.

From that point on, she made a conscious effort to pay less attention to his little tricks and more to the subtle shifts in his expressions. She watched diligently for any noticeable cues or signs regarding how he wished her to carry herself. Iris greatly disliked forsaking too much power in order to play along with his games, but she didn't appear to have a choice. Either she could play it cool and see the situation through to its hopefully positive resolution, or she could deviate from his script and end up injured or back at the center of public scrutiny. Clearly, there was only one logical choice available to her. She resigned to do what was needed of her for the time, but when it was all over, he would be in for it. That silent promise of retribution placated her somewhat, and she was able to distance herself from her turbulent emotions again.

Her current plan was to stand still, out of harm's way, and only act when she deemed it was necessary. But of course, the capricious man had another idea in mind. He drew closer to her again, but this time she did not attempt to dodge or follow him. Iris went absolutely rigid, her arms stiff at her sides, as she waited to see what the next phase in his fanciful plan was. Her pulse quickened as he moved ever closer.

By then, she was acutely aware of his presence. Iris allowed herself a moment to shift uncomfortably and avert her gaze before she was swept up in his arms. An involuntary gasp was released from her, and it took every ounce of restraint she possessed not to wrench herself free of his grasp. Her body went absolutely rigid against his own, and she strained ever so slightly against his grip in attempt to create some space between them. Iris' heart had experienced a great deal of strain within the past few minutes, but nothing had sent it racing quite so fast as this. It was truly a miracle that she hadn't simply fallen over dead.

They were so close that she could even smell him; the odor that radiated off his skin was one that reeked of smoke and stale sweat. She tried not to wrinkle her nose too visibly, but it was painfully clear to her that the man was in dire need of a good bath as soon as possible. Soon another awed murmur rose above the crowd, and Iris distracted herself from her extreme discomfort in order to determine what he was doing next.

Following the general line of sight of the crowd, Iris allowed her eyes to travel upward. The flame crown that had been hovering above her was now expanding, slowly forming a ring around the two of them. Intense heat radiated off of the large crown and surrounded her like an indefinable pressure. The flames crackled audibly in her ears, and for a moment she felt perfectly certain that her end had come. Her body jerked forward in an uncontrolled spasm of terror, and she screwed her eyes shut.

But she soon felt the absence of the man and his ring of flame, and Iris felt secure enough to open her eyes again. He was now creating a strange, monstrous figure out of smoke and briefly she allowed herself to wonder whether his flawless improvisational skills were the result of an overactive imagination or just pure, unbridled insanity. The crowd seemed to be completely enchanted by him now; so much that it was as if the incident with the caramel apple seller had never occurred at all. They were so enraptured, perhaps they had deluded themselves into thinking that they had originally crowded around simply to witness him in action. Exclamations of pleasure and delight floated up from all around. They were in the palm of his hand now; he was manipulating them as expertly as he had that original ball of fire.

Iris herself found her hand moving to cover her gaping mouth when his smoke dragon shot out a burst of flame that seemed to envelop the man's face. He emerged unharmed as he surely knew he would, but Iris could not fathom why he seemed so intent on tempting fate and raising the stakes to dangerously steep levels. Her face screwed up in an expression of disdain as a few women collapsed dramatically, but she quickly reduced her features to an impassive mask once she recalled where she was. The smoke dragon soon made its decent into the sky, and soon was replaced by the image of a woman. As much as all of this frustrated her, she had to admit that the heartbroken look his face took on was a nice touch. He was a thief and a liar, but he certainly had a flair for the dramatic. She didn't even want to imagine how many times he had weaseled out of various predicaments in such a manner. It wouldn't be surprising if even he didn't know.

It was becoming clear that his little story was reaching its conclusion, and she looked down at him with the seemingly expected impression of severity and reluctant contemplation as he issued his heart-wrenching apology. He fell on his knees in front of her yet again, but this time he moved and grasped her hands in his - pleading with her for mercy. Iris resisted her natural inclination to pull away from his touch, and she slowly transformed her features so they seemed to convey pity and sympathy, though she felt nothing of the sort for him.

The show was nearly at an end, so she only had to play her part for a little while longer. Iris could feel the eyes that were focused on the two of them, but she tried to move the concerns of the crowd to the back of her mind, along with their incessant shouts of encouragement. Before she spoke, Iris locked eyes with the man and raised her eyebrows slightly to indicate uncertainty, but she figured it would be best if she followed her instincts instead of waiting around for his guidance.

Iris thought back to the books she had read that involved the sort of all consuming love that he had just described. Many featured the union of a prince and princess, or in this case, a princess or prince and a commoner. Though the plots varied in each novel, the core elements were the same. The princess was portrayed as a beautiful, elegant youth who possessed grace and poise in equal measure. Iris modified her voice to mimic the smooth, soft tones of a docile, forgiving highborn woman.

"Your plight has moved me greatly, good sir. I know now that your error in judgment was the result of desperation brought on by unimaginable heartbreak, and not borne out of any evil or ill will you wished upon me or any of these kind people." She paused for a moment to give him a small knowing smirk. "I thank you for having the courage to tell us of your pain and plead for my forgiveness. I do not hold it against you, as it would hurt me to know that your final moments of freedom were still fraught with unhappiness." Iris didn't know if she was laying it on too thick, but the words seemed to come to her naturally enough. Perhaps the reason she knew her lines so well was because she had read those silly books multiple times over the years.

She also wasn't sure if the speech of hers would be enough to placate the crowd, so at the last minute, she decided on a final move to bring a definitive end to their little play. Iris smiled benevolently down at the man and slowly leaned over him, attempting to draw out the tension as long as she could. Finally, she placed a soft, chaste kiss on the hands that held her own. If that didn't get those idiots in a frenzy, she didn't know what else would do it. Everything was riding on their performance resolving without any flaws. If they were not sufficiently distracted and entertained, only trouble would await.
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Peter Dunnage

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PostSubject: Re: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Sun Jan 27, 2013 2:29 am

Peter had to admit he was quite impressed with her acting skills, especially considering she had gone stiff as a board when he'd embraced her. It had been a gutsy move on this part. Had she pushed him away, the effect would have been lost entirely. This couldn't have been this girl's first foray into acting, or at least scheming. She was more than just a screaming shrew, it seemed - she was a screaming shrew with brains. He quite liked that in a woman.

This two person act was proving to be a lot more successful than he had imagined. When her lips descended toward his hand, everyone seemed to be holding their collective breath and when they finally landed, the breath was released into whoops, hollers, and yearning sighs. Honestly, had he been better clothed and washed, the effect would have been magnified. Nothing broke hearts more than an attractive man down on his luck and Peter knew very well that he was a good looking fellow.

He stood and grinned, his hands still clasped around hers as he leaned forward, cheek brushing against hers as he whispered, "Now, we bow, walk off, and no one is the wiser. Everyone wins." He nodded toward the apple stand - the man was now inundated with people insisting on paying for the poor soldier or attempting to buy their own treats. To the crowd, he followed his own instruction and bent at the waist with a flourish, tugging his new companion's hand in a signal to do the same.

"Thank you, good people of..." What was the name of this town again? Oh, yes. "Ibarra for your charity! We will be here for the next two days if you would like to hear the rest of our stories."

Again, applause. At this point, surely most of the audience realized they had been taken by a performance, but none seemed to care. Everyone liked a good story, but they liked it even more when Peter applied his vast skills to its telling. His deception, now that this young lady had been exonerated, had been without victim. In his admittedly few years of experience out of Ignis' grasp, he had learned that though they often said otherwise, most people preferred being lied to. His survival thus far had relied much less on his powers and more on his ability to weave a good tale.

He released her hand and went to his coat, which by now had collected a pretty pile of coins. He thought he even spotted a silver or two in there. All in all, more than enough for an inn, a hot bath, and a meal. More than enough for all of that for two. Everyone was dispersing now, glancing at him and chattering to friends, debating among themselves whether or not it was courteous to approach a storyteller after he had clearly finished his work. Thankfully, none did - he was still hungry and in no mood to continue playing the performer now that the necessity had passed. This was a village only middling in size; they likely did not know the protocol to approaching performers, so they pretended to be cosmopolitan by not doing it at all. He grabbed his coat by its ends and hefted it like a sack over his shoulder, sparing a moment to see that the apple vendor was still busy and quite pleased about it. Really, he should have paid Peter for the free advertisement. It probably seemed as if he had hired him.

Coat jingling pleasantly behind him, he returned to the woman.

"I've got more than enough for the both of us, if you'd like to join me to dinner. I feel it's only appropriate I treat you, since I framed you and all that. Sorry for that." He greeted her somewhat abashedly, scratching the back of his head. He kept his voice low so as not to be overheard by passersby. "I'm Peter, by the by."

What he did not tell her - and what he wished to the discuss over dinner - was the prospect of a business arrangement. He would not travel with her for long, as to do so would endanger her unnecessarily, but surely, if she agreed, they could work together on a few islands and split the profits sixty-forty (since he would be doing most of the work). Having a lovely assistant could do wonders for him.

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Iris Ravelli

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PostSubject: Re: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Sun Jan 27, 2013 6:01 am

Iris couldn't help but smile a little to herself when she heard the reaction to her last minute stunt; it seemed to have achieved the desired effect. The crowd was eating it up just like she had desperately hoped they would. It was almost amazing how quickly the man was able to alter the very mood of the situation. In a way, he had manipulated Iris just as well as he had manipulated the bystanders. One moment she had been going at him like some rabid animal, while sobbing and twitching like a fool, and then suddenly she found herself roped into his little show. Despite his shabby, unkempt appearance, he seemed to have a strange charismatic air about him. Based on what she had experienced so far, Iris judged that he was very good at thinking on his feet and using his imagination to maneuver out of tight spots.

His apparent tendency to invent ways to shift attention and blame off of himself had nearly landed her in serious trouble, but it was also what ended up saving them both from enduring further complications. She wasn't about to forget that it was his dishonesty and unwillingness to accept responsibility for his actions that created the problem they had seemingly managed to solve, but she had to give him credit for being crafty enough to set things right in the way that he had. Not to mention that he seemed to be quite the storyteller, which was something Iris couldn't help but admire, despite having every reason not to. She didn't feel as though she could ever grow to trust or even legitimately respect someone so devious and dangerously cunning, but she could at least set her pride aside long enough to pay him a bit of grudging recognition.

With the crowd sufficiently distracted and the performance at an end, Iris attempted to free herself from his grasp, but he wouldn't budge. This loss of control left her feeling abruptly unsettled, and she attempted to tug away from him a little harder. The contact was at least bearable when Iris was able to convince herself that it was something that needed to be endured for the sake of their success, but she didn't want him to get the idea that he could start doing whatever he wanted without her consent. Within the context of the show it was different, but now they were floating back down to reality. Wouldn't it be acceptable to drop the facade now? Apparently not.

He rose from the ground and Iris was forced to straighten herself up and move along with him. She was growing so frustrated that she felt about ready to formally voice her aversion to the arrangement, when he finally leaned in and whispered in her ear. Iris shivered slightly at his unexpected contact against her skin, but she was able to maintain her focus well enough to give him the subtle nod that was apparently destined to serve as her new signal. With this new directive in mind, it suddenly dawned on her why her previous assumption had been foolish.

Of course it would be too premature to completely forsake their roles at the moment; she had just been too hasty and eager for him to let her go. While things had seemed to take a rather fortuitous turn, they still hadn't managed to escape the prying eyes of their spectators. If any slip up occurred that managed to cause the two of them to lose favor with the audience, they would be back right where they started. She had performed admirably when she was expected to keep up with him by the end of his plot, but based on her serious oversight, it was still glaringly obvious who was the seasoned veteran in the equation.

Iris supposed she ought to feel bad about playing a part in such a dirty trick - it wasn't like she made a habit of doing such wild, impulsive things every day, but she honestly felt as though she was given no other choice. She never thought of herself as much of a manipulator, but what else was she to do but play things up? It wasn't as if she had actually ever done anything reprehensible to begin with. Before this man came along and swept her up in his madness, she had just been going about her business.

All she had wanted was to make her necessary purchases without attracting the attention of anyone who might know her identity and alert her mother of her whereabouts. Clearly her original desire to maintain a low profile had failed miserably, but by no real fault of her own. And when it came to her fellow consumers, they all seemed fairly willing to condemn her as a lowly thief before the man intervened in an effort to mend the catastrophic mess he created. When she thought about things that way, it seemed there wasn't much reason for her to feel overly repentant for deciding to comply with him.

Still, even when she rationalized all the reasons she had at her disposal for not feeling properly ashamed, she couldn't help but feel as though there was something wrong with her. Was it bad that she felt very little regret over what she contributed to? It is true that she had been a fairly unwilling participant for a majority of the act, but she did have enough power to simply abandon him by the end. This wasn't how she typically lived her life. She should have felt ashamed, but she didn't. In fact, now that it was all over and she had the chance to reassess all that had transpired, Iris found that in a twisted, utterly perverse way... she had almost enjoyed it. Well, not all of it, of course. She did deeply regret the way she lost control of herself and exposed her emotions so openly, but she wouldn't let that happen again. It was unpleasant, but all things considered, it was just a minor slip up. In the future, she would be sure to carry herself in accordance with her customary quiet dignity.

Or maybe she just had to make an effort to look at the changes in herself as positive growth. The very reason she had made the difficult choice to run away from home was that she never felt free to live life on her own terms or take any risks. In a way, wasn't this exactly the sort of adventure she had been yearning for her entire life? Granted, this man wasn't quite the traveling companion she had envisioned herself having, but she had to admit that there was something utterly exhilarating about what she had done today. It was like she had actually been given the chance to vicariously experience the life of one of her coveted fictional characters, but in a way that was much more substantial than simply conjuring up a fictitious adventure in her head. No, maybe things weren't all that bad.

Iris felt him tug on her hand, and she hurriedly mimicked his actions by leaning down into a low, exaggerated bow. The crowd cheered for them yet again, and Iris was finally set free. Unsurprisingly, her hand was slick with sweat. She did her best to wipe it off discreetly on her trousers, and she could only pray he had enough tact not to say anything. Iris watched him as retreated to collect his bounty. Would he bring up the topic of compensation? If he didn't, she certainly wouldn't hesitate. Normally she wouldn't dare to be so forward, but there was no doubt in her mind that he owed her dearly for what he had put her through.

Thankfully, he seemed to be thinking along the same lines. It wasn't as if she was particularly greedy or anything, but she was just starting out, and her savings wouldn't last her forever. From her perspective, it was more than fair to demand a cut of the day's profits. Well, he hadn't exactly agreed to pay her, just treat her to dinner, but Iris figured that if she accepted his offer, she would have more time to bring up the possibility of a business transaction. She didn't exactly relish the idea of dining with the man who was responsible for making a portion of her day into a nightmare, but the proposition carried some distinct advantages that she couldn't bring herself to ignore. Besides, what adventurer in their right mind would turn down a free meal?

Iris delayed answering just to spite him, and she made an effort to appear deep in thought for longer than was needed. "Well, alright. I suppose one meal couldn't hurt. It's not like you're running low on coin, anyway," she said, gesturing to the wealth that was now bundled up in his coat. The man then gave her his name. Peter? What an average name for such a strange character. "Hello, Peter. I'm Iris. I'd say that it was nice to meet you, but I don't quite know if that's true." She allowed herself a slight smile then, but she wasn't exactly kidding when she said it.
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PostSubject: Re: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Sun Jan 27, 2013 4:36 pm

Iris. An Undan name, if he had ever heard one. Her appearance suggested a more exotic mix, however, and he found it to be a nice one at that. He wasn't exactly sure whether or not she was being sarcastic in saying it was nice to meet him, but his reply would have been the same whether she was sincere or jesting. He dug one of the caramel apples out from his pocket and picked off a bit of lint.

"Ah, don't worry. You'll learn to like me."

Perhaps he shouldn't have been openly flirting with someone he wanted to make a business partner, but he could hardly resist himself. Peter was an appreciator of the female form and beauty of all shapes and sizes. Under normal circumstances, he would have been laying it on rather thick right now, but judging by how uncomfortable she seemed to be by the little physical contact he'd initiated with her, she wouldn't have taken very well to it. He would never understand people why people were so afraid of a little touching. During his childhood in the brothel, people were always patting his head and pinching his cheeks. As a student, before he entered the military, he and his "friends" would wrestle. In the military, he and his older squad-mates would spar, get drunk, hug each other, and find women to do the rest.

As they walked to an inn he had spotted on his way into town, he ascertained that she, too, was passing through. Peter was excited at the prospect of having a travel partner, temporary as she was. Life on the road got lonely; he took to talking to himself to pass the time. He loved people, rejoiced in people, in all their differences. Most of his life had been spent alone and now that he was out of Ignis' cage, he wanted human company as often as he could have it. Due to his classification, he couldn't have the same human company for long, but perhaps he could find another willing young lady when his and Iris' time was through. Still, he was getting too far ahead of himself - he didn't know if she had a family to return to, or definitive plans as to where she wanted to be. For his part, all Peter wanted to do was wander until the national government had decided they were tired of waiting. He would figure out the rest when it happened.

"We'll get our rooms first, I'll bathe - you can if you like - and we'll meet in the dining room. I'm quite ripe by now. Sitting too near me for too long will kill your appetite."

When they reached the inn, Peter opened the door for her with a slight bow and walked in behind her, wishing she had taken off her cloak so that he might have enjoyed the scenery. The stately woman behind the counter, who he could only assume was the innkeeper, did not seem overly pleased to see him. Her glare slid right over Iris, who was obviously the cleaner and more fragrant of the two. Peter assumed his most winning smile before plunking his coat down on the counter with a clatter. The innkeeper's eyes widened.

"Two rooms, please. And...would you happen to have any clothes for sale?"

Peter was loathe to visit tailors for any reason and he preferred to travel light. In every town he went, he purchased new (to him) clothing when the money permitted and threw the old outfit away. It wasn't the thriftiest way to travel, but for him, it was infinitely more convenient. Besides that, he didn't know how to patch holes or fix hems and all that other lady stuff. When clothes started falling apart - which they always did eventually, seeing as how he slept on the ground often and climbed trees for fun - he tossed them out.

The innkeeper called an assistant to show Iris to her room and led Peter to her son's room, where he found a pair of pants and boots that were both just slightly too large, suspenders, a clean shirt that was just slightly too small, and a straw hat. He had been meaning to pick up a hat and the lady allowed him to borrow a razor. Briefly, he went to his room to see where it was and hide his coat before making his way toward the men's bathroom, clothing tucked under his arm. As he passed Iris' open door, he waved gaily. He was quite proud of himself for securing them two rooms. Professional indeed!

His bath was a good one and he emerged from the tub feeling like a new man. Peter managed not to nick himself while shaving either, which he took as a good omen, as everyone knew that whether or not a man cut himself while shaving was decided by fate and chance. He pulled on his new clothing and assessed himself for a moment in the full-length foggy mirror. He looked like a farmer, which was not a terrible thing. It made him far more approachable than he had been previously and the hat made fussing with his wild hair unnecessary - not that he fussed with it often anyway. He rubbed his now bare chin, winked at himself in the mirror, tossed his old clothing into the waste bin, and made his way out to the dining room.

Iris was not there yet. He took a seat at a table and immediately ordered two of the finest ales the inn had to offer. Peter rather liked Undan ale - it would have gone well with the caramel apples, but he had already tossed those away, exhausted with their sweetness after eating only one.

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Iris Ravelli

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PostSubject: Re: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Sun Jan 27, 2013 10:21 pm

Iris observed Peter with a mixture of mild curiosity and horror as he retrieved one of the illicit caramel apples from his pocket. Did he really intend to eat it? That was not the decorous thing to do. While the apples had looked quite delicious and tempting when on display at the stall, Pete had reduced a one fine treat into something one might find discarded on the side of the road. The apple was spotted with lint and flecks of dirt and detritus that had undoubtedly collected at the bottom of his pocket. Iris grimaced as she watched him begin to pick away at it, and she soon decided that she couldn't stomach seeing it anymore. Iris averted her eyes from the uncouth actions of the stranger, until she heard his response to her introduction.

Learn to like him? That seemed unlikely. Iris figured she could tolerate him well enough for the sake of bringing up the topic of proper compensation, but that was about it. They just seemed to be too fundamentally dissimilar. Sure, she had enjoyed herself after a certain point, but he was too unpredictable. Iris had always longed for a little spontaneity in her life, but Peter seemed to come with a nearly lethal dose of that.

Was there anything in particular she would be expected to say to that? It would have been rude to voice her true feelings. As strange as she had allowed herself to act today, she would not forget her manners. Did he expect similar levity from her side of things? Iris had never been very adept at bantering, and especially not when she felt it was expected of her. At loss for how to appropriately respond, Iris simply pursed her lips and looked away from him again. Any flirtatious intention behind Peter's words was utterly lost on her.

On the way to wherever it was he intended to lead her, the two of them engaged in some light conversation. They exchanged mostly trivial, impersonal details. Iris did tell him that it was her desire to travel, but she didn't confide in him regarding the specifics of her circumstances. She felt it was harmless enough to admit that she was intent on adopting a transient lifestyle, but he didn't need to know the details of her home life and what she had left behind.

Iris was grateful that he initiated much of the conversation on the way to their destination; she was dreadful at thinking of what to say when long, uncomfortable silences persisted. Peter talked enough for the both of them, so Iris was left to shoulder very little of the vexing burden that was social interaction. Her responses were generally very concise and somewhat terse, as she did not feel entirely comfortable with offering any more than he asked of her, but it was still a refreshing change of pace for Iris to not feel the need to strain for something to talk about.

For the rest of their short journey, Iris made an effort to appreciate the scenery and drink in every little thing that they passed along the way. Soon enough they had arrived at a quaint little inn, and Iris was immediately eager to see what the interior was like. Peter opened the door for her, and Iris, momentarily taken aback by this display of manners, paused in the doorway momentarily before issuing him a quiet thanks and continuing inside. The bow had been a little much, but she still appreciated the gesture.

Not that she needed him to hold the door open for her of course, which she considered reminding him of at a later juncture, but she was grateful all the same. It was nice to know that he was actually capable of a little decency. For all the effort she put forth in an attempt to defy and question her mother's traditional teachings, it was inevitable that much of what Iris learned about the importance of politeness and refined manners would remain with her in some capacity. Peter's one gentlemanly act wasn't enough for Iris to let her guard down entirely, but at least there had been some progress. Or maybe he was just doing his best to openly flatter and charm her simply for the sake of getting into her good graces after what he had done. Either way, it was something.

If only Iris had known at that particular moment, while she was busy contemplating his sudden display of courtesy and etiquette, that Peter had been lamenting the fact that her cloak had been obstructing his view; then Iris would have promptly revoked what little credit she had bestowed. She was a little taken aback when he broached the topic of purchasing rooms, but she supposed that it made sense. Iris hadn't originally intended to stay with him after they had eaten dinner and hopefully divided up the remaining profits, but it wasn't as if she had any other plans in mind as far as sleeping accommodations were concerned.

By the time they finished getting clean and eating their meal, there was a chance that it would be so late as to make traveling aimlessly at night unwise. Perhaps she could even use their time together as an opportunity to solicit advice on what her next course of action ought to be. Peter was obviously no stranger to travel, so it was likely he possessed some tips or otherwise useful knowledge that could be shared. In contrast to her surprise at his intention to procure them rooms for the night, Iris was quite pleased to hear that he intended to bathe. She didn't want to embarrass him, but the odor was quite foul when standing too close. Iris wasn't in dire need of a washing like Pete was, but she could never turn down the prospect of a nice soak in a tub.

The innkeeper seemed less than pleased to see Peter walking in behind her (and based on his current appearance, Iris couldn't quite blame her), but any sense of disdain or disapproval that marked her features quickly vanished when Peter made an ostentatious display of the coins that were bundled up in his jacket. He made quick work of acquiring their lodgings after that, and even managed to get himself set up with a fresh pair of clothes. What a relief.

They parted ways as they were both led to their separate rooms, and Iris was finding it difficult to contain her excitement. This would be her first time ever staying in an inn, and she couldn't wait to get a look at her room. It was a modest affair; sparsely decorated, containing only the essentials. The room was a little worn and shabby perhaps, but Iris was simply enchanted by it. No, it was not bad at all.

Sure, it was far from being stately or palatial, but it was a space that she would have all to herself for one night. Iris stood by her open door, intent on closing it so she could begin settling in with some privacy, when Peter happened to walk by. He waved at her enthusiastically and she did her best to flash him a grateful albeit restrained smile. Though when she took notice of the questionable attire that he carried with him, her smile faltered and was replaced by a quizzical expression. When he had finally vanished from sight, Iris shook her head slightly before closing the door. What had she gotten herself into?

Once certain that she was alone, Iris peeled off the layers of clothing that had been soiled by sweat brought on by a combination of heat and intense anxiety. After shedding her attire, Iris folded her clothing at the foot of her bed and stashed her remaining belongings underneath. Only a few short hours had elapsed since her last bath, but that was still far too long for Iris.

Bathing had always been her preferred method of relaxation after a long day. She hurried to make all of the necessary preparations before lowering herself into the warm water with a contented sigh. They had provided the required materials to add perfume to the water, and she had added them without hesitation. Iris ended up lingering in the tub longer than she intended to ensure she had cleaned herself thoroughly, but she would have taken even longer had she opted to bring a book in with her.

Satisfied with her level of cleanliness, Iris patted herself down with a towel, and used her abilities to take care of the rest. With a few perfunctory movements of her wrist, water droplets slid down her body and made a small pool at her feet. After extracting the moisture from her hair as well, Iris made another motion and transferred the small puddle into the bucket she had placed outside the tub.

She had performed this routine so often that those little displays of elemental power were like second nature to her. Bath time was also beneficial to her in a sense that it provided her with more time to experiment with her abilities. Iris found that her bath had put her in quite high spirits. She wasn't even feeling as intimidated by the prospect of dining with Peter as she had been earlier. Iris made short work of brushing out her hair and slipping into some loose-fitting garments, and then she was out of her door.

After she emerged, Iris sought out Peter and quickly spotted him at a table. Iris hesitated for just a moment before making her way over to him. "Hello," she greeted him politely, taking in his transformation as she took her place across from him. Iris could already see the effect a good washing had on him. She was relieved to notice that he was emitting a much more pleasant scent, for one thing. And the clothes that had looked so silly when they were draped across his arm actually managed to look quite decent now that he was actually wearing them.

The hat could have easily taken the whole ensemble too far, but she found it suited his personality somehow. Now he didn't look anything like the grimy vagabond she had initially taken him for. Iris also couldn't help but notice how he had been vastly improved by a shave, but when she found that she might have been peering for longer than was appropriate, she immediately lowered her gaze and began inspecting the finer details of the table they were sitting at.

While she was mulling over the best way to bring up the topic of payment, a young female server approached their table and lowered down two frothy mugs of ale. Iris thanked her and inspected her drink, sniffing at it curiously. Iris rarely drank ale; only on the rare occasions her mother allowed that she have it with dinner, or when her brother Vincent smuggled her some when no one was watching. She had certainly never consumed enough at one time to become completely intoxicated, but she was sure Peter's experience level far surpassed her own.

Suddenly a new line of thought occurred. How much money had he spent on the drinks, anyway? What about food? Not to mention the rooms and his nw clothing. Based on his willingness to pay for everything thus far, Iris certainly couldn't accuse him of being miserly, which made her feel more confident regarding what she planned to ask him. Her primary concern was that he was a little too free and charitable in his spending, and that it would only be a matter of time before he burned through all the earnings.
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PostSubject: Re: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Mon Jan 28, 2013 4:28 am

"Good evening, Madam Iris." He greeted her cheerfully.

Though he had only been there a few moments, Peter had practically melted into the chair, becoming more puddle than man. He had slumped until his head was being supported by the back of his chair, long legs stretched out to an angle from the table. Odelia had always lectured him about his posture, but to no avail. Though he would straighten himself whenever she was around, as soon as she walked out the door, he was stretched out again, as if anywhere he sat might as well have been a bed.

As the young lady swung by with their ales, he tipped the brim of his hat to her and gave her a crooked smile. She flushed, gave Iris a second look, and left, clutching her tray to her chest. She was cute, in a buxom, wholesome sort of way. He wondered if she was in any way related to the innkeeper - or to any burly older brothers or stern fathers. Peter watched her sashay away with some interest, grinning as she peeked over her shoulder at him and hurried along with extra swing in her rounded hips. Abruptly, he remembered he was supposed to be directing his attention to his dinner guest. He cleared his throat awkwardly and turned his eyes back toward Iris.

"I, uh, I didn't know what you liked to drink, so I got you what I like to drink. If it doesn't suit you, you could have hot milk or something." He gestured toward her glass with a chuckle, noting the way she sniffed at it. "It's not poison, I promise. At least, not until the sixth mug or so. Maybe the second for you."

He raised his mug.

"To avoiding imprisonment and ungainful employment!" He exclaimed before taking a deep pull of his pint. Undan ale was more bitter than its Ignesian counterpart, but with less burn than expensive Terran liquors. It had a salty element to it as well, as if the ocean air had flavored the brew directly.

"But, in all seriousness, I apologize for what happened this afternoon." He changed his cheerful tune quickly to one of remorse as he straightened in his seat only to slump over the table, weight supported by his elbows. "Hunger does crazy things to the mind. At any rate, I must commend you on a job well done. I was half-convinced you were my princess. Without your help, we wouldn't be enjoying this fine ale at this fine table in this fine establishment."

The serving girl returned with crusty bread and two bowls of creamy soup dotted with chunks of clam and shrimp. She hastily set Iris' bowl before her with nary a second glance, but when placing Peter's, she made sure to lean down extra far. Peter bit his lower lip in appreciation and she gave a little giggle before turning away with a spin of her skirts and bustling off. With any luck, their meal tonight would be free.

"What were we...oh, yes. Sorry. Iris, have you a family? Husband, children, etcetera? Anyone who would mind terribly if the two of us were to adventure around the isles with a two-person act guaranteed to make lots and lots of coin?" Peter jumped right into his desired topic of conversation with both feet and tried to keep the hope from his face. If he seemed too eager, then she might try to swindle him.

To distract himself, he snatched at a slice of bread and dunked it so far into his soup that his fingertips almost met the liquid and swished it about. When it was near to disintegrating, he lifted it and dangled it into his mouth - in order to minimize dripping - and swallowed without chewing. Copious amounts of steam rose from the bowl and the soup itself was scalding hot, but high temperatures had not bothered Peter for a long time. In fact, he was nearing the point where he hardly noticed heat.

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PostSubject: Re: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Mon Jan 28, 2013 2:38 pm

Iris frowned disapprovingly at Peter's poor posture. He looked like he was dangerously close to simply sliding off his seat and rolling underneath the table. Sitting across from him with her back perfectly straight and her hands neatly folded in her lap, Iris looked to be his exact opposite. Even someone such as Iris, who possessed very little experience and intuition regarding such matters, could discern what was occurring between Pete and their server. Impatience cause her to fidget and drum her fingers on the tabletop anxiously. Iris was afraid that if he didn't regain his focus soon, she would be left to delay asking him about payment and would consequently lose her nerve.

Once Peter seemed to become of aware of her presence again, he began making conversation about the drinks he had ordered. If she had been given a say, she certainly would have ordered something different for herself, but it seemed to be too late now. In her opinion, it would be both rude and wasteful to not at least make an attempt to drink what he had already purchased.

Not only that, but for some reason, Iris found that she resented the implication that she couldn't handle the ale and would likely be better off with a cup of hot milk. Both points were fairly accurate in truth, but she didn't need him offering condescending alternatives. He also didn't need to be aware of how much she actually did enjoy the occasional cup of hot milk. "I'll be fine. Thank you for your concern."

With that, she raised her mug along with him as he toasted their good fortune, and she tipped it toward him slightly before taking a swig. Her desire to spite him and prove herself to be a competent drinker in the face of his doubt made her slightly overenthusiastic. The ale went down faster than she had anticipated, and Iris hid her mouth behind her hand as she choked it down. Once her coughing fit was through, she wiped at her watering eyes with the back of her hand. Feeling suddenly foolish, Iris closed her eyes momentarily and rubbed small circles over her left temple with her fingertips.

She opened her eyes once she became conscious of Peter speaking once again, and she cleared her throat lightly in attempt to distance herself from the embarrassing display of her ineptitude that had occurred previously. She planned to order herself that warm milk after Peter went off to bed. Her throat was still raw from her drink going down the wrong way, so her words came out sounding uncharacteristically raspy.

"I understand," she said simply. But she didn't, really. Iris knew of the kind of hunger that left one with a vague sense of discomfort and emptiness, but that need was always quickly satisfied. Her family was far from being considered affluent, but they did well enough to get by with few complaints. True hunger was beyond her comprehension; it was something she simply could not fathom. Iris had never been forced to experience deprivation of such magnitude; ravenous desire so incessant and consuming that it drove people to commit unspeakable acts.

Iris also took care not to commit to the matter or forgiveness. If he was being honest with her and had actually been motivated by desperation, then she was willing to cut him some slack and allow him the chance for redemption. But that didn't change the fact that what he did was extremely careless and rash, and nearly caused serious problems for the both of them. She looked down at her nearly untouched drink, and glared at slightly as if it were mocking her. Iris reached out for it cautiously and slowly raised it to her lips.

It was an attempt to improve upon her previous failure to hold her own, as well as an attempt to create a casual atmosphere as she placed an inquiry that had been on her mind for quite some time, "So," she began, taking a slow sip of the ale this time, "How much would you say we made, exactly?" Iris made sure to throw the 'we' in for good measure. After all, he had been the one to state that her help had proved to be very valuable indeed.

Matters of business aside, Iris couldn't help but swell with satisfaction when he commended her performance. She had taken a chance and was forced to step far out of her comfort zone, but her efforts seemed to have paid off. "It was nothing," she replied, trying to maintain her modesty. "I just tried to do what felt right at the time. That's all." Instinct certainly did play a large role in her decisions, but she made the choice to omit the fact that her familiarity with romance novels also provided some inspiration for her material.

Their server then make her return with their meal in hand; a creamy seafood soup accompanied by some bread. Iris looked up to thank her as instinct and custom dictated, but the woman was gone the moment Iris' bowl made contact with the table. Her brow creased slightly as she watched the woman shamelessly throw herself at Peter. Didn't she know the meaning of restraint or dignity? Iris had been brought up differently, and would never dream of being so inappropriately forward in a public location.

Peter didn't seem to take issue with her behavior however, and Iris reacted to their impropriety by scowling over her soup. She busied herself through their tiresome flirtations by repeatedly blowing on a scalding spoonful of of it. The heat was still intense when she swallowed it, but she had to admit that it was good, despite the less than ideal company. It certainly soothed the rawness of her throat quite nicely.

Peter's sudden interest in her personal life was startling. Iris' eyes widened and she quickly slurped down her next spoonful of soup. She followed that up with another slow, drawn out sip of ale, and scanned the room for any sign of eavesdroppers or familiar faces. "No, no family," she said evasively. "Well, yes, I do have family, but I don't believe I'll be missed." Two outright lies. She took another shaky sip of her meal when the rest sank in. Did he just say what she thought he did? Was that a business proposition?

Iris set down her spoon with a soft clink and eyed him uncertainly. "Are you saying you want me to be your partner, Peter?" Supposing that was true, then it seemed evident that his plan was far superior to own, which seemed rather simplistic in nature once she gave it more thought, She had been fretting over how to go about asking him to share a portion of the day's profits with her, but he had been thinking on the long-term. The prospect was undeniably exciting and promising. If they managed to do as well as they had today, then it wouldn't be long before she had amassed enough coin to realize whatever dream or inclination that flitted through her mind. Unlike Peter, Iris aimed to be a thrifty and shrewd spender. She could make it last once they inevitably parted ways.

As she awaited his answer, Iris wrinkled her nose and found herself strangely transfixed as he practically dunked his hand into his soup and plopped a lump of disgustingly soggy bread into his mouth. She dabbed her own chunk of bread so lightly into her soup that it barely caused a ripple in the surface. Would she even be able to tolerate him long enough to make a partnership work?
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PostSubject: Re: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Tue Jan 29, 2013 4:04 am

Most of the civilian Undan women Peter had met at this point were of the same stock - coarse, forward, and strong-willed. He had no idea how the nobility behaved, but he found it refreshing that the peasant women carried themselves as men might. He supposed it had something to do with the local pirate/sailor culture. Undan women could just as easily be found at sea as the men, which, from what he knew of military life, had a way of molding a person into something crass and able to belch at least a quarter of the alphabet.

He suspected that Iris was highborn, or at least wealthy to some extent. She did not act the way he was accustomed to seeing the local women behaving. She was prim and proper, had coughed at the ale, much to his amusement. Peter was curious, but he decided against inquiring too deeply into her past. He wouldn't have liked it very much if she had dug too deeply into his. It was none of his business anyway. If she said she was without a family to tie her down, he would believe her. Truth be told, Peter did not know much about professionalism, but he liked the sound of the word and he liked trying to embody it even more. It made him feel adult.

"We probably made somewhere around three silver." He exaggerated, only a little. It had never occurred to him not to give Iris a share of the profits, though he was debating the split in his mind. "And yes, I'm saying that I would think a partnership would be advantageous for us. I do well enough on my own, but love stories sell a lot better when there's someone pretty to play the love interest."

Peter spoke with ease and confidence, despite the fact that this had been the first time he had ever worked with someone else in this avenue of work. The possibility had never even crossed his mind before. It was a risky proposition, not because of the added difficulty that inevitably came with sharing and splitting money (Peter was not savvy enough to have considered this), but because of the way he performed. Naturally, fire and smoke had a large place in his shows and adding someone into the mix greatly increased the danger. They could find a way around that, though. Thus far, Peter had never injured an audience member. He could manipulate the story they told so that Iris would not have to come in contact with flames, as he had earlier. Peter Dunnage, you are just the smartest man alive.

"We'd have to have a little seed money for costumes and maybe a mule or something to help us carry things, but we could be huge! I'll split the profits with you sixty-forty, since I'll be exerting the most effort, what with my little tricks. Unless you've got tricks of your own? What system are you? Water, I suppose. Are you any good at it?"

Peter Dunnage, you are an absolute genius. If - and this was a big "if" - if she had any talent in water manipulation, then they could add that to their performances. Iris would not be as good as him, of course, but if she was at least an apprentice, he could see possibilities. Peter did not stop to think that he had been sculpting his element since he was a child and that it might not come so naturally to someone else.

"Also, you must realize that life on the road is not always pleasant. We will not always have an inn, we will not always have a bed, and the weather will not always be perfect. If we are as successful as I'm projecting, however, we will always have food in our bellies."

As he spoke, Peter was shredding bread apart and dropping it into his soup until his bowl was filled with fat little clouds. Spoon gripped in his fist, he shoveled the resulting soggy, gloppy mess into his mouth. The serving girl dropped by to refill his glass and he thanked her with a full mouth. The coy smile she wore dropped abruptly and she shuffled off, nose wrinkled. Oh, well. He wasn't that interested anyway, but if he was, later, he would salvage the situation.


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PostSubject: Re: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Wed Jan 30, 2013 1:40 am

Three silver? They had done better than Iris had initially believed. Peter had seemed to be hauling around quite a lot in his coat, but she hadn't expected that much. Some were lucky enough to make that much coin within a few months, and they had managed that feat in a day. More specifically, they had accomplished it in the span of a few brief minutes. For all the differences that seemed to exist between them, Iris had to agree with Peter when he said that their partnership would likely prove to be mutually beneficial.

One of Iris' main concerns before setting out from home had been the matter of how long her funds would last, and what she would do when they finally ran out. Her fear that she would be stranded without coin to serve as a means for procuring vital supplies had almost been severe enough to make her consider remaining at home. Ultimately, Iris decided she would have to take a chance and work on formulating a plan for self-sufficiency, but it now seemed as though that plan had already found her. If this arrangement proved fruitful, then she would be able to put her worries about financial security to rest for quite some time.

The prospect of being continually relegated to the role of the love interest was far from ideal for Iris, but she supposed it was a sacrifice she was willing to make in the interest of some stability. Besides, it wasn't as if anything they did had any true bearing on reality. The trick for Iris would be to distance herself from the situation as she would while reading a novel.

Iris often immersed herself in the minds of her characters in an attempt to experience their adventures along with them as best she could, but she was always able to draw the line between fact and fiction. She had an active imagination, sure, but she was far from delusional. Whatever she would be expected to do for their little show would just be another role she was assuming in her mind. And if anything Peter proposed ever made her genuinely uncomfortable, she would have no qualms with clearly outlining her boundaries.

There was also no denying how well the audience responded to the meager breadcrumbs of fabricated romance they had served them earlier. Love stories really did seem to be have a form of universal appeal, for a variety of reasons. Some would watch them and be pleasantly reminded of their own experiences in the realm of passion. Others would stand transfixed as they lived vicariously through their act and imagined taking part in a torrid affair of passion. It seemed that love was something people everywhere either understood, or desperately yearned to understand. The theme was ubiquitous, familiar, and undeniably marketable. Iris nodded firmly in Peter's direction. "I do see your point. The crowd did go wild for it earlier."

Iris paid no mind to him when she realized that Peter had casually referred to her as being pretty. If she had believed him to be paying her a sincere compliment, then she might have become flustered. But she had seen enough of him by that point to know that he was a skilled manipulator, and she wasn't about to get herself pulled in by some empty flattery. If she was going to do this with him, it would be for the monetary benefits only. Iris didn't intend to be sweet-talked into business; she desired legitimacy. But his remark did bring one curious thought to mind: why hadn't he thought of this earlier?

Peter appeared to be clever when it came to such matters, so it seemed strange to Iris that he had never attempted such an agreement. Maybe he had been so consumed by self-preservation that he never stopped to consider the benefits of taking on a temporary partner? He possessed a certain charm that seemed to draw people in, so Iris was sure that he could have his pick of talented or interesting assistants if he chose to look a little harder. But Iris didn't intend on reminding him of her replaceability, so she resisted the temptation to voice her various questions.

His enthusiasm was beginning to feel infectious. Peter seemed to sincerely believe that they could succeed, and Iris felt herself beginning to share his optimistic hopes for the future. If she hadn't seen the way he had worked over the crowd in the market she would have been bound to be far more skeptical and wary of his grand assurances, but Iris had witnessed the results with her own eyes. The mention of putting aside funds for costumes caused her mind to drift, and Iris momentarily imagined what it would be like for them once they had become officially established. The idea of making actual preparations for their partnership served to make the situation feel just that much more substantial and exciting in her mind.

The only factor that hampered her eagerness to begin was the realization that she didn't have anything truly spectacular to offer. Peter clearly received more practice and training with his element than Iris ever had, and the difference in their levels of ability was bound to be conspicuous and glaring to the audience. She suddenly felt that it was important to choose her words with care. If she let on just how inexperienced she was in comparison to him, there was a chance he could change his mind about working with her.

Then she would be left to rely on her meager savings and live with that uncertainty until another course of action could be determined. Iris attempted to bide her time by indulging in a few more spoonfuls of soup before giving him an answer. "I do control water, which isn't much of a surprise around here. But how good am I? Well, I might seem a little rusty when going up against you, but I'm sure that's nothing a little practice won't fix."

All of that was certainly true enough, but she intentionally left out the fact that she couldn't even be certain of her own classification. Most of the time, Iris had been made to use her element to aid in the completion of mundane tasks usually related to housework. She only managed to feel challenged on the infrequent occasions when she trained with her brother and father, or when she found herself with enough free time to experiment with new techniques. But none of that was sufficient to build her up to her desired level of skill. Iris' powers still lacked a certain refinement. Her father had always said she was capable of much more than she gave herself credit for, but Iris was certain that her father's endorsement wouldn't lend her much credibility in Peter's eyes. What else would he be expected to say to her?

Iris also thought it wise to slip in the mention of practice sessions. They would have to rehearse for future performances, wouldn't they? If that was how their arrangement was to work, then Iris would be provided with a unique opportunity to hone her skills in the presence of someone who clearly knew what he was doing and would have no reason to discourage her from trying new things. The only potential complication she could foresee was that Peter might be inclined to keep their show more spontaneous and unscripted. Such a method seemed more suited to his personality, but it would provide Iris with no opportunity to rise beyond her relative ineptitude.

Nothing Peter told her about the potential hardships of the road was new to Iris, but it was somewhat disheartening to hear him repeat the information. She had done extensive research on the subject before leaving, so she was aware that comfortable nights like the one they were experiencing would not always be assured. She could only hope that they would eventually make enough that they could afford proper lodgings on a fairly regular basis, but of course there would be times where the distance between one destination to the next was so great that they would be forced to remain in unpleasant places in the interest of rest.

The worst part for Iris was the thought of being deprived of regular baths. They had always been a part of her daily relaxation ritual, and she didn't look forward to days where she would be stalking around while filthy and irritable. But despite her reluctance to forsake certain luxuries, Iris was aware that life on her own would be the same as it had been within the confines of her home. "I understand. I wouldn't expect to be able to stay in a place like this every night. Just be sure to warn me if I start to look as dreadful as you did this afternoon."

Iris smiled slightly against the rim of her mug as she allowed herself another careful sip. She was unwilling to draw attention to his poor hygiene and haggard appearance previously, but it seemed more harmless now that he was now freshly bathed and clothed. Besides, if she could say anything to demonstrate her awareness of the potential strains of living on the road, he seemed to be the perfect example to provide.

It was just a bit of lighthearted teasing, really. Not the sort she usually engaged in, but it had seemed appropriate in the moment. It wasn't always easy for her to gauge when such comments were acceptable - she was still insecure when it came to bantering, but she was feeling a little bold. Was the ale going to her head already? Iris had failed to keep track of how often she sipped from the contents of her mug.

Iris' momentary good humor vanished as she watched their server made her next approach, but it promptly returned when the woman visibly regarded Peter's eating habits with distaste. Iris stifled her inclination to chuckle by tearing herself another chunk of bread and placing it in her mouth, At least she wouldn't be hovering around as much anymore. Iris didn't know what to do with herself when the two of them were falling all over one another. It made her feel as though she were an unwelcome intruder in some private moment. Not to mention that she simply did not approve of the way the two of them carried on like that out in the open. In that woman's defense though, the sight of Peter eating really was repulsive. "So is it settled, then? Are we partners?"
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PostSubject: Re: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Wed Jan 30, 2013 2:53 am

With every word they exchanged, Peter's excitement level grew. They were going to do this. He was going to have a partner in crime and now, he would have company on his long treks between towns. Not only that, but he could already see his economic conditions improving. No more sleeping on haylofts or spending days without food for him! Peter neglected to tell her that they would be avoiding large cities, but that bridge could be crossed later. He was a notoriously good liar and if she asked, he would come up with some perfectly believable excuse as to why they stuck to villages, but there was no reason to bring the topic up now. He worked better under pressure anyway.

"Practice! Yeah, sure, we'll practice. Do some choreography and what not." He replied enthusiastically, actually clapping his hands together. Choreography! That was a smart word and a long one, at that! If pressed, he wouldn't have been able to spell it, but at least he knew its definition. Choreography would actually be required, he realized. He could not go about sparking himself at whim - not when she was around and an active player, rather than the mannequin he had relegated her to earlier in the day.

"I understand. I wouldn't expect to be able to stay in a place like this every night. Just be sure to warn me if I start to look as dreadful as you did this afternoon."

Peter pressed a hand over his heart, assuming a wounded expression even as his cheeks were puffed out with stew and bread. He swallowed thickly and actually used his napkin to wipe his mouth, which he felt was a particularly polite move on his part.

"My lady, you wound me! But I suppose if you're in the water system, you could just give me a bath whenever I need and thus, all problems are solved."

That was another thing he hadn't thought too deeply about before inviting her to join him on his cross-island journey - the fact that he had to adjust certain rituals and habits of his now that he was no longer going to be alone so often. Pete had a habit of sleeping in the nude, urinating on forest rodents, chasing down frogs, and mucking around in mud. He somehow doubted that Iris would be aghast to see how he behaved in private. Luckily, this would not last forever. He could go a few weeks without getting drunk around a fire and making up songs, couldn't he?

"Yes. It's settled. Partners."

Just then, music began, originating from a small band of musicians in the corner. When had they gotten there? Peter did not notice them before; he guessed they were not actually employed by the inn - more likely, they were guests who had imbibed a bit more than usual and decided to play a bit of music. Music was music, though, and good music even better. He began tapping his foot in time to the mandolin, then his fingers to the addition of the harmonica, and then began bobbing his head with the entry of the flute. The tune was jaunty, lively, and one he knew from his days in Terra, though he could not remember its name and even if he had, he was sure it would be something different here.

His bowl of soup was empty now, save for the sodden crumbs collected at the bottom. Well-fed, clean, and brightened by Iris' decision to work with him, he was in a prime dancing mood. The rhythm was infectious, especially as the dining room's other occupants began to clap and stomp in time. Pete rose from his seat and immediately began kicking into a dance - one he had seen done in other areas of Unda - one hand hooked beneath his suspenders, the other holding onto his hat. There was a rousing chorus of cheers and the scraping of tables and chairs as people cleared a space in the middle.

Pete's appearance on the makeshift dance floor inspired others to join. Remembering his beer - and his new friend - he withdrew and jogged back to the table, slightly breathless and grinning.

"Let's dance on it. Our business proposition, I mean."

He offered his hand to her, wiggling his eyebrows.

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Iris Ravelli

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PostSubject: Re: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Wed Jan 30, 2013 5:14 am

Iris was pleased that Peter did not seem put off by her need for training. She had feared that would sour their deal, but he just seemed to take the information in stride. Though he seemed to be a bit erratic and unrefined at times, Iris was at least relieved to see that he seemed to have a general plan in mind. He appeared to possess the street smarts she so desperately lacked. If anything could be said in praise of him, it was that he certainly knew how to command an audience in a way that she did not - and that ability to charm and amaze so effortlessly would be the key to their success.

No, as she had already established with herself, Peter would not have been her ideal pick if she had been given other choices of travelling companions. Technically Iris was not obligated to remain with him longer than this one night, but she had decided to take a more fatalistic approach in regards to her adventuring. She would explore all options that were readily available, and she would allow her choices to lead her down whatever path she was meant to travel. That is not to say she would be opposed to venturing off on her own again sooner than planned (provided that the arrangement proved insufferable or otherwise unworkable, which did seem to be somewhat of a possibility), but she was going to at least make an earnest attempt to enjoy life as it happened.

What was the point in leaving if she wasn't going to make at least some small effort to live and experience things differently? Her previous life had seemed so claustrophobic and unvarying, why would she want to repeat those same mistakes by attempting to predict and control every single event and action? While her life had seemed so limited before, Iris now had the ability to reinvent herself as she chose, and she would have no one to answer to if she did so. Perhaps it would do her some good to be forced to become acquainted with the mysterious and the unknowable.

She was going to see this decision through as far as she could manage, and she would just have to resign herself to the fact that she had no real way of knowing what would happen. That realization would take some time to settle in, but Iris didn't expect her metamorphosis to be without its complications. She could hardly be expected to alter her entire worldview within the course of a single day. Iris was dedicated to the cause of bettering herself and figuring out who she was truly meant to be, but her progression would be slow. Yes, the changes in her would be gradual; they would come to her one step at a time. Iris considered their risky and potentially foolish agreement to be her first real step toward independence. Whether she would regret her trust in the guiding hands of fate, she could not say. That was something she would need time to adjust to,

Despite such lingering misgivings about her choices, Iris truly was feeling eager to see what they would be able to accomplish together. The fact that he had agreed to practice with her filled her with more excitement than the promise of wealth and security that their partnership presented. It didn't even matter that their elements were in such opposition; she would settle for any teacher as long as there was a promise of genuine challenge. Obviously there was much he could do with his element that would not translate well for a water user, but he had demonstrated his propensity for creativity with his element. That was the sort of knowledge and skill she was hoping he could impart. Iris already had something of a knack for discovering innovative ways to manipulate water on a small scale, but maybe he would be able to inspire her to dream a little bigger.

Iris opened her mouth to question him about any potential ideas he had for their first time out as an official act, when he went off and started talking about how she was welcome to give him a bath if she felt so inclined. Well, there he went again, saying something crude and presumptuous. Iris felt as though her estimation of him was constantly raising and lowering, fluctuating madly with each word that came out of his mouth, One moment he seemed to show such promise, and then next he would do or say something crass, and Iris would be left to wonder if she were letting herself be taken in for a fool.

She supposed he was just trying to continue the teasing her brief moment of impulsiveness had given rise to, but she still disliked the implication behind his words. Iris took another drink from her mug, but this time all the mirth was absent from her features and tone. She was beginning to feel the ale working its change in her. Something about it continued to embolden her. Iris had never experienced outright drunkenness, but she was beginning to comprehend how drink transformed those who consumed it too swiftly and greedily.

Iris was beginning to feel more at ease the more she drank, and her better judgment was temporarily suspended in favor of exploring the new feeling. It was if she was steadily growing lighter somehow. At that particular moment, she didn't care as much as she normally would whether or not her words would offend him. "Sure, Peter. But it would be just as simple to drown you and save myself the trouble," she countered lightly. Hopefully he would take the hint.

After that matter seemed to be sufficiently resolved, conversation returned to the matter of their alliance for the common goal of monetary gain. "Partners," she echoed. It was going to be an interesting journey indeed. Iris had no objections to the terms they had discussed. It did not bother her that he would be receiving a larger cut of the profits, because it was extremely likely that he would be doing most of the work. Iris wanted to make sure she would have enough income to get by without fear, but she was unwilling to push her luck.

Peter was the one who had originally offered the possibility of a long-term arrangement between the two of them, and Iris didn't want to inadvertently spoil anything by expecting too much. Honestly, she was grateful for his generosity and his willingness to take a chance even though they were still virtually strangers. Iris would have been pleased if he had simply compensated for her for her willingness to play along and for what his actions had put her through in the first place. If he hadn't suggested something a little more promising, Iris would have simply accepted her share of the profits for the one day and retreated out of his life forever.

They heard the music swell not long after they had declared their arrangement to be official. Peter became an active participant almost immediately, but Iris was perfectly comfortable enjoying the lively tune from the safety of her seat, with very little movement whatsoever. She could hardly manage to feel any surprise when Peter suddenly rose from his seat and began to dance. It figured that he would be the very first person to join him.

Iris felt an amused smile pull at her lips, but she made no movement to follow his example. Iris permitted herself some impropriety, and she leaned back in her chair somewhat. She was still feeling uncharacteristically at ease. Iris was also in a prime location to look on as a spectator as Peter brought the inhabitants of the inn spiraling down into a night of chaotic revelry. It was only when she spied him heading back toward her did Iris find herself greeted by her usual anxiety.

"Dance?" she said incredulously, her eyebrows knitting together as if she were trying to decipher a word spoken to her in a foreign language. Iris shook her head vehemently. "I don't know how," she admitted. The false courage allotted to her by the ale could only carry her so far into madness. She didn't dance; that just did not happen. It was silly and it made no sense to her. Plus there were so many people around who would see. And dancing would presumably require a bit of contact. No, she would've preferred eating one of those foul lint-covered caramel apples over this. Iris would've eaten them all right there - yes, even the ones with dirt on them - if it meant she wouldn't be expected to dance with him.

Yet there Peter stood - smiling at her like an idiot, with his hand outstretched expectantly. Her eyes met his briefly before she averted her gaze completely and looked down at her hands that were now gripping the edge of the table. What was she to do? There were countless other horrors she would have endured in place of this one, but she also couldn't stand him waiting there for her, pressuring her to act. Iris took a more daring gulp of her ale this time (which was nearly finished by that point) in the hopes of being invigorated by it once again. Finally she brought herself to look at Peter again, and her hand reached out hesitantly toward his, stopping short so that it was hovering over his hand uncertainly rather than touching it.
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Peter Dunnage

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PostSubject: Re: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Sun Feb 03, 2013 4:09 am

"Don't worry. I don't know how to dance either."

Peter snatched her hesitant hand and pulled her to her feet with ease. His grin was pure mischief as he swept her into his arms and out onto the dance floor. Obviously, that had been a bold-faced lie. He had always been fleet of foot, even as a child. Being a pickpocket made a certain grace and agility quite necessary and his time in the military had greatly improved upon that base. That sort of talent lent itself well to dancing, as did his past experience in the brothel and his constant desire to party. He was not a career dancer, but he did like to cut a rug.

Their proximity was near, but not too much so, with a good few inches separating their bodies. The music was too fast for him to clutch her in a tight embrace and anyway, he didn't usually lay it on that thickly unless he was trying to score. There was a distinct difference between bed partners and business partners (or so he had been told repeatedly by the many down-on-their-luck entrepreneurs he had met thus far) and the key to a successful business relationship was to remember that. Anyway, she seemed too frigid for him to seriously consider in that capacity, despite her looks.

The tune had taken a wild turn toward improvisation and now, it seemed everyone in the dining room was either on their feet or stamping them from their chairs. Peter lived for things like this, for spontaneous bouts of revelry. Before his escape from Terra, he had never experienced exuberance such as this. Unsurprisingly, he found himself well-suited to it. In Ignis, all public dancing done by the ladies and all music played for the johns were carefully chosen to enhance the ambiance of the brothel. In Terra, there was never an opportunity for spirited merry-making such as this. In the rare moments he was away from Ignis' watchful eye, he was on a mission. Even when he drank with his squad mates, it wasn't in mirthful inns, but rather, run-down taverns where the barkeeps stared at nothing and the serving girls winced when the men touched them.

She had not been lying when she said she did not know how to dance and it surprised him. Thus far, he had never met an Undan woman without at least a sense of rhythm. Again, Iris was setting herself apart from the typical female islander. Even if she was a highborn woman, as he had theorized, she should have known at least a two-step. Peter tasked himself with taking the lead entirely. She was much lighter than he had anticipated and so, he was fairly swinging her around in time to the music, hoping desperately she did not break his toes.

"You weren't kidding! I've seen invalids dance better! You really ought to learn to loosen up a bit." Peter laughed. "Okay, I'm going to spin you out now. Spin back into me. Think you can manage?"

He didn't wait for her answer before he did exactly as he warned her he would do, spinning her out at arm's length. Iris' problem, as far as he could see, was that she was far too tense. Not for the first time, Peter found himself extremely curious about this woman. How was it that she was traveling alone, apparently without a certain destination, and so...sheltered? She had choked on the ale - he knew for a fact that even children drank ale and wine in Unda. She did not know how to dance. She even spoke stiffly, but he wondered if that was because he was a stranger and not because she was an ice-cold shrew.

But in Peter Dunnage fashion, these thoughts were quick and fleeting. She was a girl named Iris, they were dancing, he was enjoying himself. In the morning, they would set off on a grand adventure together and make idiotic amounts of money, and that was all he really needed to know.
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PostSubject: Re: How Do You Like Them Apples?   Wed Feb 06, 2013 8:39 pm

Iris wasn't prepared to be grabbed so forcefully, and so when Peter yanked her up from her seat, she stumbled forward and barely managed to stop short in an effort to avoid colliding with him. She had been momentarily soothed by Peter's admission that he also was not a skilled dancer, but it soon became clear to Iris that he had just been feeding her lies to make her more willing to comply. The music was pulsing around them, and the contents of the room that were not comprised of Pete and herself had been reduced to multicolored blurs. Of course, that could have been a combination of their lively movements as well as the excessive amount of ale she had consumed. Iris swore she could hear the contents of her stomach sloshing and churning around as they continued, but she did her best to suppress any inclination to vomit on Peter.

He was moving her about as if she were a rag doll, and any attempt Iris made to become an active participant in their dance simply served to hinder the rhythm. She became so preoccupied by the mechanics of her movements that she was far too distracted and consumed by the task to remain as fearful as she had been before he whisked her off to the dance floor. Looking like a fool was still something she dreaded of course, but she had no choice but to earnestly attempt to hold her own until it was all over.

Iris alternated between looking at Peter and at her feet for guidance, but both attempts at trying to impart sense into the senseless proved fruitless. Dancing seemed to come so naturally to everyone but her; men and women swayed, stomped, hooted and hollered, while she simply stumbled along with a partner that was far too enthusiastic and naturally rhythmic for her stiff and deliberate movements. She found that her preoccupation at performing to some unattainable standard of excellence even prevented her from deriving any enjoyment from the sights and sounds around her. For some, music simply flowed through them in a way that defied both practice and reason; their bodies acted as conduits for the very essence of the melody. Iris however, was not among that echelon in Undan society.

Any grace or poise she could be said to possess started and ended with her speech and the way in which she presented herself. Spontaneity seemed ideal in theory, but it was much more trying for Iris to actually put it into practice. Instead of entering her and innately guiding her, the music seemed to just exist in some external shell that had formed around her - like an incomprehensible force or pressure that just weighed her down instead of invigorating her. After a while, looking at the floor only made Iris feel dizzy. Peter seemed to float along with the urgent tune that surrounded them, while it took Iris every ounce of concentration she commanded not to trip over her own feet.

Still, while her extreme conscientiousness was managing to keep her upright, it was not enough to save Peter. On more than one occasion, Iris found herself stepping all over him like an uncoordinated buffoon. Even in the raucous chaos of the room, Iris had enough time to wince and issue a pained "Oh, sorry!" his way. Ensuring that they never came any closer than necessity dictated was also trying for her. It wasn't long before she began to contemplate the various ways she could extricate herself from the situation. Provided she were able to slip off, Peter surely would not be left wanting for a replacement partner for long. The way Iris saw it, no matter how difficult and persistent he was bound to be initially, once she was gone, he would soon be entranced by the next comely woman who managed to catch his eye. But she was never given the chance to bolt to safety, for Peter decided to take it upon himself to help her "loosen up". Not that she needed to be told how dreadful she was at dancing; she wasn't under any illusions to the contrary.

"You're going to do what?" she shouted at him over the din, desperately hoping that he wasn't serious. She could barely manage the basics, how in the world did he expect her to survive that? "I don't think so!" Iris protested firmly, her eyes wide. Before she even had a chance to struggle or execute her plan to step on his foot deliberately, she was being spun away from him. The room twirled about in that one swift motion and sent her loose-fitting clothing billowing up around her. Strangely, the sensation wasn't altogether horrible. Iris felt slightly lightheaded, but not in a disagreeable way. She stifled the unbidden breathless laugh that escaped her behind her hand. From her perspective, it was nothing short of a glorious miracle that she managed to endure the first half of the move without killing herself or someone else. She hadn't even stumbled. For a moment, she could have almost appeared graceful. Though it was a small victory, it was still electrifying. Could it be that she wasn't entirely hopeless? It was still too early to say, but her confidence would certainly be boosted if she somehow managed to complete the little trick.

She hesitated, their hands were still locked in midair. For a moment she began to calculate the exact way she would have to move in order to pull it off, but she stopped midway through the thought. Over-thinking the way things were supposed to be done had only made the majority of their dance stressful and more like a chore than a leisurely pursuit. If she could just manage to abandon her inhibitions and uncertainties for that single moment, perhaps better results would be yielded. Iris inhaled sharply as she made up her mind.

For the first time all night, her body seemed to be moving of its own accord. Iris mimicked the movements that had sent her spiraling away from Peter in the first place, and soon she found herself winding back toward him, albeit a bit unsteadily and erratically. It was a fairly impressive for such a woefully challenged beginner. Or it would have been, had she not slammed into him rather forcefully at the finish. Iris collided with his chest in an audible oomph! Instead of growing frustrated or disheartened however, she found herself laughing again. The sound was bubbling up from her throat despite her attempts to contain it, and she had to bite down on her lip to lessen it. It was hard to identify to source of her mirth. Was she being aided by drink? Was she happy to have nearly completed one entire dance move without incident? Or could it be that she was simply beginning to relax and have fun?

It was only after a few final desperate gasps of laughter that Iris became conscious of her rather compromising position, as her body was still pressed against his. She quickly wrenched herself away from him and stumbled back a few steps, straightening and smoothing her clothes once she found her footing. Iris cleared her throat and shuffled in place. "Maybe I'll have better luck another time," she said sheepishly, while rubbing the back of her neck in an absentminded manner. "Not that I'm promising that there will be a next time!" she added quickly, realizing the possible implication of her words. "But I think it's getting late. I should really return to my room and rest up for the morning." Iris didn't even wait for him to reply before she began striding off to her room. About halfway to her destination she hesitated suddenly, remembering her manners. Looking over her shoulder she said, "Goodnight, Peter. Thank you... and oh, sorry about your feet." With that, she shuffled off and retreated to her room.

Iris leaned against the closed door and slumped down, sighing lightly as her heart thudded in her ears. She was feeling suddenly exhausted and her foreign little bed was looking terribly inviting. Iris hoped that Peter wouldn't force her to explain to brusque manner of her exist, but that issue was less pressing than her undeniable need to sleep off the various stressful and erratic events of the day. Iris quickly changed into her nightgown and burrowed under the bedding, feeling quite unsure whether the future that lay ahead was supposed to excite or terrify her.
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