Chinese Take-Out

February 18, 2017:

Nerina gets more than she ordered in Chinatown. Jhiao arrives to help her clear her plate, then takes the flautist to-go.

Chinatown, Manhattan (NYC)


NPCs: None.



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

*Drip, drip, drip…*

A thin stream of water dribbles out of a cramped alleyway between a restaurant and a bookstore in Chinatown. Easily the loudest district in all New York last week, the massive festivities of the Chinese New Year have finally died back down, leaving in their wake a sea of red lanterns, an overabundance of loose papers and confetti, and a few much-enriched shop owners. It's the Year of the Rooster; a year for hard work and minding one's health.

Which is why buried in the alley under a makeshift blanket of red and gold papers, a young blonde is sleeping off a heavy dinner. Her head is lolled back against the wall and a soft snoring emanates in time with the small rises and falls of her hoodie. One too many wandering gusts of wind have blown a glimpse of her hair free, revealing fine gold strands… and knocking a bang across the bridge of her nose.

A well-stuffed backpack serves as a cushion under her rear and one of the flautist's dirt-encrusted boots is wedged in the stream, the corner of its sole a muddy brown. Whenever she exhales, the youth smells like soy sauce.

With the reduction in people and activity, certain kinds of activity have stepped back up after a lull induced by not being willing to be spotted and 'harassed' during the New Years celebration. The triads and their street gangs certainly didn't disappear; indeed, they made fat bank last week selling anything and everything people could want, no matter how illegal. But straight-up thuggery was kept to an absolute minimum, lest it bring down swarms of cops or damage the money-making opportunities of last week's festivities.

But now all of that attention has largely drifted away, and the thuggery is back in swing. More than a few homeless have wandered into the area now that they're less likely to be rousted every couple of hours by the cops, hoping to cash in on the discards of the shops with their suddenly swollen customer bases now contracting again. So too, then, the thugs are out looking for those vulnerable persons, both as a means of entertainment, and to reassert their strength after having been driven off for a whole week with nothing to do.

The first hint of trouble, then, is that not one, but four sets of footsteps come down the alleyway from the street's sidewalk, accompanied by muttering voices. There's no charity in these guys; they haven't had a good beatdown in a week, and they're almost slavering for something to sink their brutish fangs into.

It's all terribly unattractive.

A heavy meal of rice and vegetables on an empty stomach is good encouragement for heavy, lost-to-the-world sleep. Living on the streets all year, less so. As the shadows settle over her and their voices reach her ears, the blonde rouses from her sleep with a snort and her eyes creak open, jamming halfway with drowsy fatigue as they turn to see what woke her up.

"< There's usually a couple around here. Restaurant's right there, and the grates are usually warm. >" a voice comments, low and gravely, in Cantonese.

"< Better be. >" another voice answers.

Those four sets of footsteps continue down the alleyway, a mixed and junbled shadow of their passage falling across the opposite wall of the alley as they approach.

Then one of them spots movement. "< Over there! >" And the feet start running. They wouldn't want their prey to escape, after all. But they aren't being very subtle. There's whooping and hollering with glee. Finally, something - they don't view the homeless as people, to be honest - to vent their frustrations on!

The blonde's eyes crack open a little wider as her ears pick up familiar sounds and she sucks in and holds a breath. Alertness rushes through her as her heart rate jumps and a basic, primal part of her mind makes a snap judgement for the rest of her to follow.

Reaching into the front pocket of her hoodie, the flautist draws and flips open a pocket knife in one motion, holding it out before her like a ward.

When Nerina does not flee, that leaves it all too easy for the four goons to thunder down the alley and surround her, pinning her against the wall. They don't seem to respect the knife much, though they haven't surged forward to seize her in hand just yet.

"< Isn't she a little one. >"

"< Round-eye, Man. >"

" You got any money, girl?" One of them growls in English, advancing menacingly.

The flautist's head spins slowly from one side to the other, counting through the circle that's formed around her and noting the lack of space. There's a mote of sleep still stuck in one eye and a bedhead fray to the bang hanging out of her hood. She was comfortable a moment ago.

Dragging her boots across the ground, she pulls her feet beneath herself and presses a hand into her knee to help her cold body stand. The knife lowers to her side as her hand drops for balance.

"Ate it all," she replies dismissively. Make that soy sauce and garlic.

"Too bad. Guess we take it out in trade and fun." the speaker growls menacingly, and the look in his eyes says, sure enough, he's not kidding. He glances at the other three, and they advance.

There's no way for the men in the alleyway to really see or hear the soft-footed figure approaching over the rooftops. It is a way to gain perspective. A way to stay out of the way, out of the press of humanity. There are way too many two-foots around, all the time, in this place. But she hears angry intent. She hears threats, jokes about harm in Cantonese, and in English. And she must investigate.

So it is that Jhiao can see what is unfolding in the alleyway below. She sees … and she will act.

Nerina's eyes sweep the group again, her back already up against the wall behind her as her fingers toy with the grip of her knife. The flautist settles on their apparent leader, tilting her head back to look up as he draws closer, and sneers coldly. "Animale sporco," she derides. "I was having a good nap."

"E what do you want to trade?" the blonde asks as her tone loosens to more conversational and the back of her knife thumps against her breast. The hoodie falls disappointingly flat but it presents the blade anew. The small but well-honed edge catches light for a moment and shimmers as Nerina smiles just a little and just a little too sharply. "…Cuts?"

Sadly, Nerina is not the only one who is armed; she's just the only one who started out armed. But when she makes it clear she intends to use that knife, the thugs aren't going to back down. That's a threat to their precious manhood, and they won't let that stand. No way. One, the largest, just grabs a small plank of wood. Another produces a chain which he wraps around one fist and holds in the other. And the leader produces a knife, a bufflerfly that he flicks open with a complicated little flashy maneuver as he advances as well.

"I think we'll trade for fun, 'til you can't anymore." the leader growls.

Behind the advancing thugs, a soft thwump of sound indicates the landing of a small figure from a great height, falling from the roof of one of the buildings to the alley floor. Jhiao does not strike. Not yet. But she is here to do so.

Nerina's eyes flit around as the group arms themselves to match but the only one that holds her attention is the leader and his knife. The young blonde stares at it then back up to him as she smiles a little more. "I like your knife. Is it as sharp as it is fancy?"

"Sharp enough to cut you to ribbons, cutie. Better you just lay back and enjoy yourself." the leader offers.

The thugs strike, the one with the club swings first, aiming for Nerina's hand holding her blade. The one with the chain whips it out at her legs, and the leader moves to try to put his blade at her neck, the better to put an end to her foolish resistance.

However, they are not alone, and none of them come close to moving as fast as the diminutive figure behind them. Jhiao starts with the one with the knife, a swift sweep at the back of his knees to be followed by an elbow to the temple. And still she's moving. No claws to be seen, so far.

"Are you sure? It looks pretty blunt—" Nerina whips her head as she catches movement out the corner of her eye and her knife snaps back in against her chest like a coiling snake while her other arm moves up to guard her head, just in case. It gives the knife-wielding leader an opening he can almost exploit before he's pounced from behind.

Confused in the sudden chaos, the heavy chain smacks against the flautist's leg and entangles them. Nerina lets out a startled cry as she's yanked off her feet and slams flat against the pavement.

In short order the leader is out cold, but that small and swift figure doesn't stop moving. A flipping kick knocks the board out of the hand of the largest attacker. Then she lands, and drives a fist into each knee, bringing the man down to his knees with a cry of very real pain. Then another swift elbow to a temple, and its down to two attackers: the one unarmed, and the one with the chain.

The chain-wielder tugs Nerina closer, advancing, but he has noticed that he and his allies are under attack, and starts looking around, trying to spot what's going on.

On her side but less than cooperative, Nerina squirms and slips her leg out of her bulky boot, then out of the chain entirely with the ease and speed of a practiced contortionist. Sparing the violent blur a glance, the blonde raises an eyebrow before turning her attention forward again and diving between the man's knees, coming up just high enough to kick off for a forward roll before turning around again, now with a little more breathing room.

Unfortunately it's a narrow alley, and the flautist's stunt has left her with her back against a whole new wall. Nerina frowns just a little under the curtain of her newly-disheveled bangs.

Against the new wall, Nerina is in the right position to see that violent blur as she stops moving, for just a moment, holding position as she waits to see what the other two attackers will do. But when they turn, ready to fight, and start to advance again on Nerina Jhiao does not hesitate. Some two-foots must be taught their lessons firmly. And apparently Jhiao is quite strong, as well as incredibly agile and very quick. Skilled too.

And then there are two disheveled young women in an alleyway with four unconscious thugs. "You did not stay in your safe den in the trees." an accented voice offers in English, since Cantonese won't help with Nerina. "Are you hurt?"

Nerina lowers her knife and quietly tucks it back in her hoodie as she looks down at the four limp bodies then back at the small young woman responsible for all of them. A hand reaches up to tuck one bang back out of her eye. "<Spots?>" she blurts as she finally recognizes her rescuer. At the mention of injuries she rolls her shoulder to give it a brief inspection. Adrenaline has dulled most of the past frantic minute but the cold isn't helping. "Nothing broken," she assures. "Were you following me?"

The diminutive Chinese woman shakes her head slightly, but she smiles at the mouth-sounds she recognizes as her nickname from this woman, the music-maker. "No. Not following. But I heard them, their intent." She gestures. "This is the China town, a place full of those who speak my Master's languages. I come here, sometimes, to walk and listen." Then she gestures to the goons. "Sometimes I do not like what I hear." Then she pads over to offer her hands to Nerina to help her up. "Why did you leave your safe den in the trees? Much healthier there."

Nerina takes the offered hand, grasping Jhiao Ting with the cotton of her arm warmer. Despite the violent and alarming end to her nap, the blonde has her composure back and is even treating the wereleopard to a small, grateful smile. If she looks closely though, it's more frayed at the edges than it should be and the flautist's cheeks, as she steps over to the leader and crouches down to take his knife, have very slightly deeper shadows around them.

"Too cold, not enough food," she replies simply as she moves on to checking his pockets.

Jhiao pads over to fetch Nerina's boot, then brings it over by her bared foot. "Colder without two-foot foot coverings." she insists. She smiles wryly at her friend. "We should go. I have learned that two-foot peoples do not like when others stop them." She considers for a few moments. "I should take you to new den. Warm. Lots of food."

A couple more small possessions move from the thug's pockets to Nerina's by the time Jhiao offers the boot. The flautist's nimble fingers are quick on more than just her instrument. "Grazie." Taking it gratefully from the leopard woman, she tugs the tongue back and slips her thick winter sock back inside. Her ankle pops quietly as it shifts it a way it's perhaps not meant to before settling back into proper alignment.

With her boot back on and no need to tighten it, Nerina stands up again and combs her hair back into her hoodie. "You have a new home?" She asks curiously.

Jhiao tilts her head to the side, regarding Nerina. "'Spots' has found a safe den, out of the stone and hard air canyons, amongst trees, with plenty of food. Warm. Good two-foots." Which is not 'home', apparently. But a good place, with good people. "I can take you? None thee would do this to you." But the choice is Nerina's, always.

One comment gives the flautist pause… as does all the new dirt on her side from the fall and Nerina tries to brush some off. "What two-foots?"

"It is a den of two-foots, much like Master's temple. But not." C'mon. She's a leopard, damnit. Some nuance is going to get left by the wayside. "Good people, they welcome others. Accept differences. Lots of space. And they are at peace with their trees and land. Lots of room and freedom there."

"Do you sleep there?" Nerina asks, trying another angle.

The leopard in people skin nods. "I have been, seven moons or so. One of them met me in the large tree space in the heart of the canyons. I was practicing my Master's forms. She spoke nicely, knew my Master's tongues. We ate, and she invited me to visit her there. I went to see the place. I stayed outside for a time. But they found me, invited me in. They have been very nice." And they treat her like a person, even on four feet. Not many two-foots do that.

Nerina looks back at the leopard-woman in silence as she leans back against a wall and shoves her hands into her pockets. Her expression is cold and her lips pursed as she weighs the offer. The spectre of age settles over her eyes - too many years living hand-to-mouth and dealing, no doubt, with worse than the four men still unconscious at their feet.

"Do you sleep there alone?" the flautist continues evenly.

The leopard-girl lifts amber gaze to sweep it over Nerina curiously, her senses telling her something is off, but not knowing quite enough about human social cues in this complex situation to know what is wrong. "Usually. It is warm and safe. They do not need to share warmth. Some are nice enough to allow naps during the day, or offer petting or scritching. Why do you ask?"

"I don't need more two-foots bothering me," Nerina replies as she nods her head to the thugs. "Unlike you I cannot turn into a leopard and run off."

Jhiao tilts her head, regarding Nerina curiously. "Oh! You thought they would only accept you as a potential mate. No. They apparently make a point of accepting many who do not find it easy to fit in two-foot society." She considers this a bit. "I would not leave you there, if you were not comfortable. I merely thought it would be good to share a safe den with a friend."

The blonde quirks an eyebrow and tilts her head to match, needing a moment to translate Jhiao's world-view. "Not a mate," she corrects, shaking her head. "Nevermind…"

Nerina sighs wearily in thought and yawns as her interrupted nap reasserts itself. A cold winter breeze whips down the alley and the flautist draws in her arms against her sides. "Okay, let's see your new den."

"Alright." Jhiao offers, and gestures for the blonde to follow her, as they exit the alleyway onto the street. Jhiao leads the way up the street to a bus shelter, and then steps inside, fumbling in her pocket as she pulls out … a bus pass.

"Elizabeth says that the steel elephants can carry us to the den, if we share this magic card with their people." Jhiao offers. Ayep. Worldview of a leopard, and how does she understand public transportation: steel elephants.

Nerina tucks in behind as she follows, taking a hand out to rub at her eyes with a grunt before tucking it safely away from the cold. Her eyes flit to the bus stop as they near it and the knife in her sweater doesn't stray far from the flautist's grip.

Jhiao's unique perspective once again draws a moment's pause from the Italian and she stares openly at the Chinese young woman. "Bus…" she says slowly then nods to the card. "Bus pass."

"Bus?" Sure enough, the bus appears, and Jhiao checks the colors and markings the way Elizabeth explained, then nods and mounts the bus, swiping her pass once for herself, and once for Nerina. "Bus pass?" she asks, holding it up to confirm with the blonde, before they can go find a seat. "I thought a bus was a kind of communication channel for the magic boxes? I heard a person on one of the boxes talking about the 'bus' and the 'bus speed' of the calculating device."

Nerina continues to follow and nods again as Jhiao echoes her. "Maybe it means more than one thing," she offers.

"Perhaps. Two-foot mouth-sounds can be so confusing." Jhiao comments as they settle into seats on the bus. Warm, comfortable seats. The leopard girl leans close to Nerina. "I have wondered how you were doing, since you left the old den. I am glad to have found you again."

Nerina takes a seat beside her and hugs her backpack loosely in her lap. No effort at all is made to keep Jhiao from leaning against her shoulder, the bad one is on the other side. "Benvenuto in inglese," she agrees dismissively. Make that soy sauce, garlic, and fish.

Jhiao does not know Italian. not yet, at least, so she turns her amber eyes on the blonde floutist. "What mouth-sounds are those? They are not any I have heard before."

"Another language," Nerina dismisses as she leans her head back against her seat and lets out a heavy breath, shutting her eyes.

Jhiao lets her amber eyes drift closed, then, as a soft subsonic rumble begins, coming through the small Chinese girl and translating through their connection into Nerina. It's not quite so strong as Jhiao's leopard form, but it's there.

Nerina cracks open one eye and looks sideways at the darker-haired girl before shutting it again and snickering to herself. Her arm slips behind Jhiao's back and pulls the werecreature against her side.

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