A meandering path

Chapter three.

Ruby gazed out the apartment window mulling in her thoughts. The day so far, had not quite gone as she had planned. In fact - it had kind of slid out of control the moment she slipped a bit and tried a heart to heart with Lani. That was generally a bad decision, tender talk never seemed to work on Lani as well as a swift kick in the rear did. Hmm, yes. That was kind of the key point to getting things across to her; it was straight shooting or nothing.

Ruby had put some thought into that and come to the conclusion that Lani's upbringing and general choice of work had something to do with her taste for blunt talking and macho behaviour. As a side effect of that she wasn't a very good person to be brought along to experimental art theatre shows. Ruby drummed her fingers on the window sill remembering the last play she'd managed to get Lani along to. 'The unravelling of the soul', which was an experimental piece about a resident of Conde Petie who got hit by lighting and absorbed the memories of inanimate objects. What Ruby had thought could have been a thought provoking experience turned out to be an hour and a half of mostly improvised poetry and five minute intervals of acting. Lani's patience had worn out after a while and she spent the rest of the time complaining until she figured out that they could order alcohol by waiter during the play. It was a lot better from there on in until Lani broke a bottle over the lead actors head during a section where he was moving around the theatre as a zephyr for. Lani had gotten both a life ban from the building and praise from the director invigorating the play with audience interaction afterwards.

In spite of her roughness though - Lani really was a good person, she just had the tendency to believe her own bravado. Ruby had considered that it would be possible - if one were so inclined, to peel the onion of Lani's psyche and understand better than she currently did, what made Lani, Lani. But that kind of prodding would understandably provoke a bitter response. …Bitter? Was that the right phrase? Maybe she'd get sour at her, or was it foul. In bad taste perhaps? Maybe they'd both be crying unless they were underwater at the time? Her brow scrunched up as she firmly derailed herself for a few moments coffee halfway to her mouth.

Oh there'd be tears, she put the cup back down again. There, that was more like it. Overall things would be a lot easier if Lani would sort herself out, but there was no pushing that. Lani would have to work her way towards her own conclusions because she had the irritating tendency to reject advice offhand. She finally took a swig of her hovering coffee and promptly spat it all over the flowerbed in spluttering confusion "What the hey?" she choked "What the heck is this?" she stumbled to the kitchen wheezing from the taste and threw the rest of it down the sink before it clicked. Lani had mixed their containers up and put whatever this week's energy drink fad was in her container again – it looked like ass kicking was back on the menu when she showed her face again.

After cleaning up the mornings mess Ruby idled for few minutes looking out the kitchen window at the morning hustle of Lindblum alone with her thoughts. "Oh shoot" she exclaimed as she mentally ran over her plan for the day, dragging Lani along to check out some of the more obscure areas of the theater district was probably out of the question now that she'd run off for the moment. It was a shame too, because despite Lani's grouchy protests she had a feeling she secretly enjoyed at least some of the more violent plays.

She could go through to the Industrial district and seek out some strange import stores but that was a long walk and there was no promise of them even being open. There was always of course the theatre district, but by herself but that wouldn't be as fun. "Well it's better than sittin' on my ass all day" she said to the empty apartment, a quick visit it was, there wasn't too much harm in that. Mind made up she locked the apartment up and left, pausing for a moment to consider the Air train before heading the opposite direction. Today felt like more of a slow day, one in which she could take her time to enjoy the scenery from the newly opened sky bridge.

After a short walk The Sky Bridge gradually came into view, the ornate and modern marriage of Burmecian architecture and Lindblum steel was a triumph of both politics and engineering. Vendors had sprung up along the length of the bridge as soon as it was open to the public, hawking their wares from under its roofing to pedestrians. Ruby made her way to a coffee vendor seeking to replace the mornings ruined fix. The bridge was yet another interesting project from the enigmatic city ruler Cid. Ever since Cid had come to power he'd pumped tens of thousands of Gil into what felt like a random assortment of projects. The airship trade, new gates, city beautification, underground transport tunnels and various other projects scattered around the city. Either he was a genius at planning ahead or he just really liked building things on a large scale. The talk around the town was that the latter was true and that while he meant well but couldn't plan on anything less than a grandiose scale. Also that lot of his more bizarre policies and ideas were tempered by his wife Hilda who was the real power broker. That was just a rumour of course.

As Ruby walked along the Sky Bridge with a less contaminated coffee in her grip she took the time to admire the expansiveness of the city. The difference between where she used to be and where she was currently were immense. From living in a tiny country village nestled in the hills where they barely had radio dramas. To traveling the world, seeing new places trying new things, even meeting someone important to her along the way in. It had only been a few short years but she was had barely take the time to take stock of things. Reflecting on the past like this made her glad of what she had.

The difference between her hometown and Lindblum wasn't just positives though. Before the experience of inner city living, she hasn't experienced the abject desperation that was the urban environment. It made her uneasy sometimes how caged in she felt in the city with no nearby countryside to take a day out and relax in. That was how the city worked though, and she had caged herself by moving here. It was lucky that she'd met Lani when she did or the city would have eaten her alive. That said, even without Lani's street smarts she could easily pick out the workers towns from the ones intended to house travelers from the bridge.

Some parts of the city were less that friendly to outsiders and there was even word of organised gangs of thieves who worked stealing exotic and high risk valuables on order for thrills, although as much as she hated to deny thrilling scenarios that was only a rumor. Her tendency to enjoy and talk over all of the weirdest theories drove Lani up the wall. All Ruby had to do was enter the room with a newssheet to get a wary look out of Lani.

After about five or ten minutes of weaving through the crowds of Lindblum Ruby arrived at the theatre district When she had first come here she had expected to find it hard to fit in. But as time went on she realised that nobody fit in at the theater district. It seemed like every culture from Alexandria to the legendary island of Daguerreo had passed through and made its mark.

"Ruby, hey there Ruby!" a booming voice rung out over the crowds breaking her out of her memories, it was Horph – a local herb vendor. "Where's Lani?" he said slotting a package of herbs into a basket "If you see her can you pass on that Horph has some things for her?" Ruby shot him a deadpan look "Energy herbs? Why does Lani need-" she cut herself off. No, never mind it was probably better not knowing what dubious mixture she was planning on. "Well she's outta town for the moment Horph" Ruby replied having a cursory browse of the enormous range of strange herbs packed into small baskets in the front of his stall. "Ahhhh that is a shame. Lani needs more mana!" Horph boomed moving a tray between benches.

Horph was a strange character, he was a by trade a herb and general items vendor but he looked more like he spent his spare time pit fighting in Treno. Wasn't collecting herbs generally a peaceful exercise? "She's got the guts - but she lacks the magic!" he continued producing a brown paper package that looked like every other brown paper bag from the rack behind him "I have an easy and mostly harmless fix, imported herbs from the outer continent! Well known, cheap, fast and good!" he tossed the bag to her and she fumblingly caught it nearly dropping her cup.

"I don't have the money on me right now for this" Ruby said shaking the bag with suspicion and listening to the contents rustling. "Oh no, no. It is a free sample for a good customer" he said "Perhaps you would like something as well?" Ruby shook her head stuffing the bag into a pocket "Thanks Horph, but no thanks. I'll work with what I have" "Ah you are a tough customer!" he said with a laugh sorting the package back onto the shelf "You are too wise already for mana potions to do anything to you. Come see me if you change your mind some time" "Well, ya got that one right. I'll think about it" Ruby said with a wave as she melted back into the flow of the crowd.

Lately, it had been dawning on her while she did odd jobs around the district, that there was so much more to be gained in creating something that others enjoyed than taking and… she scratched her head absent mindedly while she looked through a stall of clever glass trinkets. … and just appreciating other peoples work. She'd always watched the plays when they came through her small hometown, and later on in Treno with Lani. But it had taken a while for the shoe to drop that she could take part in making the very plays she enjoyed. She'd eventually spotted an advertisement looking for new staff in Treno and gone from there.

"Hey Ruby, hold up for a moment" a familiar voice sounded over the crowd. "Pillow! Fancy meeting ya here!" she exclaimed back with a wide grin at the eccentric looking man in the nice but bland cream coloured suit who was making his way over from across the street. "Ruby please" he said with a hurt expression when he got to her "It's P'Lou. Pe, lough – I know you're doing this to be humorous but if could once in a while spare me your wit, please? That would be great" he twirled the walking cane he carried for decoration. Ordinarily a suit and cane would be a dashing look, but because he wore it every day he looked more like he was on the run from a wedding party and didn't have time to get changed.

"Darlin' I'll stop making fun of ya silly names when you stop changing them every other week" she shot back "What can I say" P'Lou replied with an easy shrug as if he was used to such jibes "I cannot remain on one sound for too long – I evolve and change organically like my art" Ruby rolled her eyes swirling the dregs of her coffee "You run up a bad reputation on your name and change it to get away" she said casually following up with a blisteringly obvious stage wink. A pained look flitting across his face told her she was right.

"You can have your theories" he waved dismissively. "My taste in names isn't what I'm here about though" Ruby eyed him warily "Tastes? Ya'll aren't here to sell me more of those Conda Petie sweets are you?" she slotted the now empty coffee cup into a bin chute. "Lani spent a whole day lying down after that last batch. She told me it felt like fiery spikes were being hammered into her throat an' next time she saw you she was gonna hire an airship and throw you off it because she didn't know a bridge high enough" she shook a finger at him accusingly "And the only reason I ain't mad at you over that one is because I told her not to buy things from shady people in the intermission and she did anyway"

"A most unfortunate incident involving a, and let me just emphasise this word, rare" P'Lou waved his hands expansively "Lapse in quality control – and I'd really rather not run into your trained go-" there was a small pause as he caught himself. "Associate, again. I believe the last time we met we parted again very shortly afterward when she took my air cab pass and kicked me down a set of stairs" He gave her an accusing look "Isn't she a sweetie when she gets angry?" Ruby said with a vaguely smug grin "So spit it out Plough, what is it that ya want?"

"It's not me, as such. But I heard through some friends that you impressed a few out of town people with your last role" he waggled his eyebrows "So if you turn up at a few plays and mingle with the right people. It might pay off". "Hold on a moment, I didn't get that part" she said bluntly "You mean to say people came in from out of town and saw me in a bit part at a play?" he paused for a moment, probably to seem like he was carefully considering his words. "Something like that, yes. It's a rumour that you may be being considered for a central role in a production for an out of town and very exclusive company" "Just tell me what company it is you mule" she said rolling her eyes. "Oh they're pretty obscure" he stroked his chin for a moment "You probably haven't heard of them unfortunately."

"Your information was as overwhelmin' as always" Ruby said blandly "Think nothing of it!" he said with a flourish apparently ignoring her deadpan delivery "Remember me favourably when you get to the top, or - need stage supplies at short notice even. Speaking of which have you seen Sybel around today?" he glanced around them as they passed a crossroad in the market "If you do, tell her I'm out of town at a ten star show in Treno, I'll see you around!" he said hurriedly before jogging off down a side alley already calling out to another recognised person.

"Looks like I know who ya'll pissed off huh" Ruby said thoughtfully scratching her head. He'd probably gone and fed Sybel a bad tip and gotten her in trouble with someone else judging by how eager he was to avoid her. His information was interesting, but dubious at best. You could rarely outright trust anything he came out with. She generally regarded him as being in a constant state of either trying to sweeten her up to sell her something or ask a favour that was financial dubious or illegal. That said what harm was there in having a look at the usual hangouts? She was already in the right area; Ruby meandered off down the street in the general direction of a popular café.

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With special thanks to © and FoxFury.