After we picked up some extra clothing at the store—dropping three hundred dollars between the four of us—we finally managed to find the movie theater we had been looking for and watch one of the summer’s hit blockbusters.
We weren’t impressed.
“I’m still confused,” Robyn said slowly. “That scene in that wooden building—”
“It was a barn,” Laura supplied.
Robyn waved her hand. “Whatever. Why didn’t he just kill the guy then?”
I shrugged. “I’m not sure. Apparently he didn’t want to.”
“But why? He knew he was the bad guy. Killing him would have saved dozens of lives!”
Akane didn’t even deign to look at her, just continued scanning the busy street for threats. “You’re advocating violence?”
Robyn flinched. “It’s… just a movie. Besides, I’m not the one doing it.”
Before anyone could argue more, Laura undercut it with a rather inane suggestion. She always was horrible at changing the subject. “Why don’t we buy some souvenirs? You know, for Adam and Lily and—”
She stopped mid-sentence.
“…Simon and Seena,” I finished for her.
She nodded quickly, latching on to the chance to pretend those were the names she had been thinking of. Instead of Lizzy. “Right. Those two, and their friends.” She smiled a little sadly. “We might want to splurge a bit. I think they’re still going to be pissed we kept them out of the loop.”
“We also need to grab something for Akane’s boyfriend!” Robyn cooed, ruffling the swordswoman’s hair. My bodyguard knocked the red-head’s hand aside and glared, but nothing more.
“We do owe Flynn a bit more than a fruit basket,” I muttered. “I doubt we’d be able to find any swords he’d like out here, but maybe some foreign game that hasn’t shown up on the black market yet?”
“Swords could work,” Akane muttered. “Display ones.”
I shrugged. “True, true… did he have his eye on anything in particular?” I waved my hand. “Generally speaking, I mean. I know he prefers a katana for himself, but maybe a…” I frowned and snapped my fingers. “What are Chinese swords called?”
“Lots of things. Jian is probably what you’re thinking of.”
“Yeah, one of those. Or an elegant rapier, or something.”
“Chinese is probably a better bet. There’s still a bustling Chinatown around here somewhere.” Laura looked around even as we walked, as though expecting to be able to spot the ethnic district from here.
“I know, that’s why I suggested it.”
Robyn tilted her head back, looking up at the sky with a longing expression on her face. It kinda surprised me, actually. She’d been grounded less than a day. Was she really that obsessed with flying? “I’m more worried about the Lancasters. What do you get a vampire Noble and a broken demon?”
I frowned again, but not because I was considering her question. I still didn’t know the stories behind what had happened to the twins. You’d think I would have noticed one of my friends becoming a warlord, and another suffering horrific modification backlash.
“Well, we obviously don’t want to get Simon anything directly related to his condition. That will just remind him of it. Maybe a game instead?”
Laura gave me an amused look. “Is that going to be your answer to everything?”
“Maybe. What else does this city have that we can easily take back with us?”
“Clothing is always a possibility.”
I rolled my eyes. “We already spent long enough at a clothing store without finding much. We can’t—” I stopped myself with a frown. “Actually… clothing might work well… some stuff is cheaper out here, right?”
“Most clothing is cheaper out here,” she amended. “I know the Lolths and the Minervas produce a lot silk, but it’s still pretty expensive.”
“Hm…” As I understood it, pretty soon silk might actually be the cheapest clothing in Domina City. We hadn’t really had much contact with other Earthbound nations for decades—except to receive prisoners on a regular basis—but the space colonies we traded with had as much trouble producing cotton and other cloths as we did, due to a scarcity of the wide-open fields that sort of thing needed.
“Seena likes that one show,” Akane noted. “The one with the guys in the office building, or something. Maybe find some merchandise from that.”
“Sure.” It was a better idea than just wandering around the city for the rest of the day. “That’s a plan. What else is there to do around here?”
Robyn Joan snapped her fingers. “Postcards!”
…I had no idea what she was talking about. “Come again?”
But Laura nodded excitedly. “That’s a good idea! Cheap, but still unique enough that we can get a different one for everyone. Perfect.”
“Okay,” I said with a sigh. “Pretend for a minute that Akane and I have no idea what you’re talking about, and explain what a postcard is.”
Laura rolled her eyes at me. “You can’t have forgotten. Remember those pictures of cities that Robyn used to collect?”
“I still collect them.”
“Fine, whatever.” I waved my hand vaguely. “Yeah, the… ‘wishing you were here’ cards or whatever. I guess those could work, if we can’t find anything more specific for anyone.”
“We do need a list, though…” Laura said thoughtfully. “Of everyone we need to buy stuff for, I mean. Lily, Adam, and Flynn, of course. Then Simon and Seena, Yolanda—”
That made me scrunch up my face in confusion. “I don’t remember Yolanda.”
“Simon’s girlfriend, Senator Evangel’s niece.”
“Oh.” They were still dating? Good for them. After the debacle with Jelena a few years ago, I didn’t think he’d ever have a stable relationship again. “May as well put Evangel on there too.”
“Ugh.” She made a face. “You’re right, we need to remember adults too. Evangel, Mom and Dad, Doctor Clarke, Butler…”
“Nervi,” Akane added.
Laura nodded. “Both of them would be best.”
“Okay, fine, we need postcards.” I spread my hand, indicating the wide and unknown New York City. “Any idea where to find those?”
“A souvenir shop, obviously.”
I gave Laura a level look. “Right. And do you have any idea what one of those looks like?”
Laura stopped dead in the street, then turned to Robyn with a frown. The red-haired flier shrugged uncomfortably. No one even bothered asking Akane.
Great. “All right, fine,” I said with a sigh. “I think I have an idea.”
Even with the thick crowds of pedestrians on the sidewalk, it didn’t take too long to get to where I was trying to go: A lone man in a thick jacket, smoking a cigarette at the mouth of a nearby alley. Judging by the smell, it wasn’t a safe-cig, and I had to resist the impulse to wrinkle my nose at it.
“Excuse me,” I said with my most winning smile. “Real quick—do you know if there’s a souvenir shop near here anywhere?”
The man looked me up and down lazily, before deciding that I apparently wasn’t planning to mug him. “Sure.” He pointed back the way we came. “About a block or two back, there should be a movie theater. Cross the street, and keep walking until you start to see shops selling those little Statue of Liberty models. That’s the sign you’ve found souvenir shops.”
“Thank you very much.” I turned to the girls. “See? That wasn’t so hard.”
Laura rolled her eyes, fished around in my backpack, and handed the man a fifty. “For the information, and the imposition.”
He was surprised, but accepted the money gladly. “Uh, sure. Thanks. No problem.”
As we moved away, Akane gave her a look. “Bad idea.”
The sharp-faced girl sighed. “Look, just because you like hunting poor people for sport—”
“Yes, because that’s so much better.”
Robyn shrugged. “Well, she has a point. The really heavily-modded ghouls aren’t exactly peaceful men and women just trying to eke out a living. They’re monsters.”
Laura glared. “Again, Robyn, why are you advocating violence?”
“Can we please not get into this again?” I begged as I rubbed my forehead. “Let’s just accept that Akane probably should stop destroying ghoul outposts when she’s bored—”
“Haven’t for a while,” she insisted. “And—”
“And,” I cut her off, taking back control of the conversation. “They’re mostly Doresain’s anyway. They’re not exactly known for playing nice with other ghouls, let alone everyone else.”
Laura looked like she wanted to argue, but just shook her head. “Fine, okay, whatever. I’ve been on the defending side of more than one of the Ghoul King’s attacks. So I won’t argue.” She waved her hand. “Let’s just find something to buy for the people back home, then go and get some sleep.”
“And dinner,” I reminded her.
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, and dinner. Silver and gold, we can even get room service if you want. We have the cash for it.”
“What’s room service?”
Behind the Scenes (scene 215)
Outside the city is a little hard to write, because while on the surface it looks about the same (albeit with a few minor cosmetic differences), underneath it’s quite different. In Domina, it’s perfectly common to pay a nearby ghoul or other homeless for information, with the pay being balanced between the value of the information, how much you want the knowledge of your presence to remain a secret, and how suspicions you want to be by dropping too much money.