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September 8th, Saturday, 2018, early evening

The Starlight Room, Midtown, Freedom City

 

It was with all possible grace that a green dragon as tall as an elephant flared into being. Blue-red fire snapped and hissed across its body and its two mighty wings, which it flapped once to waft out the lingering flame. 

 

This act revealed two people sheltered under its wings, one of which was a tall young man with close-cut black hair, golden eyes and livid white scars from under his eyes to his jaw. He looked quite at ease, smiling reassuringly to the shocked and frozen staff and waiting guests just recovering from the appearance of the dragon. "Good evening. Party of two, name of Leroy Ransom-Conte and Nicole Whitfield-Hall," he told the burly, Biblically-bearded old man behind the desk, his seat framed by murals of the constellations, "my dragon will not be joining us."

 

The creature looked at him very sharply for that.

 

Blinking once, the old man said in a deep gloomy voice "Delighted to have you, sir." The man looked up at the boy, taking in the unfamiliar sight with no little wariness. The boy was dressed in rich blue tunic, trousers and robe with silver patterns suggesting roses or possibly eyes. He also, to the faint confusion of the man behind the desk, wasn't wearing shoes or socks, instead just a pair of ornate silver sandals. "Please wait to be seated, service will be here presently."

 

Patting the dragon on the flank, Leroy murmured "Be close, keep watch."

 

"Gild the lily, why don't you?" the dragon said, but he was already fading into another burst of heatless fire.

 

The entry to the Starlight Room was hundreds of feet above Freedom City, with panoramic bay windows giving a breathtaking view of the sea, the hills and forests and rivers surrounding it. Light was fading behind the mountains far in the west, a dim orange-pink line receding before a tide of blue and black and farther stars. 

 

Light pollution was as bad in Freedom as anywhere else densly populated, but out the windows and across the sprawling domed ceiling of the Starlight Room blazed countless billions of stars. They were just images on a screen, one synced with real Earth-time to show an accurate picture of what the Lenape and early colonists had seen in the sky so many centuries ago. To add to the effect, the lights were kept low and in cool blue tones. Entry into the Starlight Room proper was up a flight of broad, gentle steps marked with the phases of the Moon from full to new and through a a set of doors decorated with the Pleiades, the lights cunningly set so looking directly at them hid them from view. 

 

The foyer itself was decorated so all color seemed to be fading into the floor, the walls in black snd silver, the floor and base of various objects like the lamps, chairs and the desk colored in orange, deep purple and faint pink. Only the bright red 'EXIT' sign by the emergency starway broke from the theme.

 

Stepping over to his fellow passenger, Leroy beamed, his voice uncharacteristically-hushed as he said "How was the teleport? Sorry to say Dio is still young, but he learns swiftly." He smiled "Certainly bests waiting in an elevator."

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The young woman on the wheelchair was dressed in a rich, burgundy dress whose skirt reached down to her knees, and she smoothed the ruffles. Gold earrings framed her face and a matching necklace her neck. She wore evening makeup, heavier than her usual fare, which brought her eyes to life as she looked up at Leroy, beaming herself. "It takes some getting used to but it isn't so much more difficult than flying loops hundreds of feet in the air."

 

She leaned in, lowering her voice as he did. "I wouldn't have minded the elevator either, but has anyone ever told you you have a flair for the theatrics?" She gestured to the Starlight Room and the foyer they were in, the man behind the desk and a few waiters staring at them in a mixture of confusion and awe, no doubt because of their entrance. It was all very over-the-top but she was comfortable with it, like how she guessed it would be fun to drive along the highway above the speed limit. They were skirting the bounds of the acceptable.

 

"Dio, teleportation, your clothes," she said teasingly. "Makes people look and remember."

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"Should they not?" In a billow of blue, Leroy sat on the floor. His hawk-like eyes remained roughly on level with Nicole's, sparkling with amusement. "Regard me and your radiant self, Nicole. If we flew from this tower, whither should we go to find our like? Across the Atlantic is Europe and Africa, across the Pacific lies the great waste of Australia and the teeming shores of Asia, a flitter of the the feathers and we are in the jungled Americas. Tell me, Nicole, which land holds **your** peers? " 

 

His voice dropped and just for a second the scars seemed to grow, to lengthen and deepen as his jaw clenched, "Let them remember us."

 

Leroy's cocky grin reasserted as if the anger had never been "Besides, these are the plainest clothes I have!"

 

A joke somewhat blunted by it being undeniable fact.

 

"Mr. Ransom-Conte? Ms. Whitfield-Hall? I'm Veronica, I'll be with you tonight." A trim young woman in black slacks and a white shirt with shoulder-length brown hair had come out of nowhere and stood beside them, smiling hopefully. On her shirt was a name tag affirming she was who she claimed. "Your table is ready. Ms. Hall, would you follow me?" With a small penlight she illuminated a pair of slopes camouflaged beside the stairs. As she spoke Nicole caught her glancing discreetly at her wheelchair, double-checking for handles.

 

In but a few moments, the pair were up the stairs, through the doors and in the Starlight Room.  

 

The decor of the foyer stopped inside, since the Starlight Room wasn't a themed restaurant or anything. It traded that pizzazz for a subdued, elegant aesthetic of glossy curved steel, low lighting, comfortable leather seats and alcoves strategically placed to allow maximum privacy. It reminded Nicole faintly of 60's art about the future that never came. It was set in broad rings, with different rings serving different needs. One ring was cleared for dancing, one was for dining, another for casual meetings, and so on. Intersections running the length and breadth of the Starlight Room were kept clear by unspoken courtesy and very clearly-posted rules.

 

At the center of the circular room was the hub, a bar and lounge area with a raised circular platform for the nightly performance. Tonight the Starlight Room played host to the New Town Orchestra, with one of their more subdued pieces leading a stately dance among the patrons in the dancing circle.  

 

Veronica led the pair through that, across to a secluded alcove permitting a shocking, gorgeous view of Freedom City and the world for miles around. Seeing them seated, Veronica took their orders and vanished into the warm, dusky gloom of the club.

 

Leroy took a long sip of water and leaned into his deep, comfortable chair. "What do you think so far, Nicole?" he asked with a slight grin that lit up his handsome face. In the slight darkness, his golden eyes seemed almost to glow.

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Nicole laughed politely at Leroy's joke, her hand rising to hide her smile behind just as Leroy hid that flash of anger behind humor. It was worrying, somewhat, but the night was still young and she would ignore it to keep the evening's brevity.

 

"My peers?" she repeated after the laughter had died down between them. "It depends on what you mean by that. Claremont has the powered teenagers but I'm really not like everyone else like that am I? There are communities held together in the knowledge of magic, science in ArcheTech, and more organizations with advocacies you could shake a stick at. And all of that within Freedom City."

 

She sighed then continued. "I don't know, Leroy. People are so many things but I feel like I've lived a lifetime already, you know?"

 

They arrived at their table, the murmur of conversations wafting into the alcove, and Nicole took a long moment to look out the window, taking in the city's skyline. It looked so serene, different and otherworldly from high above. Then with an apologetic glance and smile at Leroy, she took out a shawl and wrapped it around her shoulders.

 

"A little cold." She trailed off then leaned forward, elbows placed comfortably on the table. "I've been in places like this a few times actually, back when I was little. Never thought I'd be back." She gestured to Leroy with a hand. "But I bet this is almost like second-nature to you.

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"It would be just like home, if we were higher up." Leroy nodded up at the darkening sky "At home most of the surface is given to nature. And our dragons, as they prefer to keep nests closer to their God. I think..." Leroy turned in his chair, eyes squinting as he scanned the coastline, his eyes skipping back and forth until something caught them bringing a gleam of recognition to his eyes "...yes! This is whalesquid territory on Earth-2! They like to sun and sing on that island. The pleasures of fearing nothing." Turning back to Nicole, he looked for a moment as happy and un-selfconscious as a child. 

 

However, on turning around his eyes lit on her shawl, and his face quickly shifted to apologetic. "I must ask your pardon, Nicole. You came up here at this time in this stage of the year on my account. I should be more attentive. Here, allow me." His right hand lifted fractionally from the table, trembling barely above it. Without incident, the robe he wore slithered off of Leroy and around the table, folding itself and laying to cover Nicole from the waist down. Taking a short breath, the young man chuckled "At least parlor tricks are not beyond me."

 

"As to what I meant...well, mostly that you are singular, Nicole. I have not met anyone who so ably marries the Astral and Material sciences. Even my elder sisters 'Kode and 'Koju devote themselves to one or the other, and they are counted as nigh unto God." Leroy shrugged, glancing out at the subdued, shimmering languor of the Starlight Room. "I forget how long cooking takes here. So much for something gone in 15 minutes."

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"Well I think your parlor tricks are very charming," Nicole said, humming contentedly as she smoothed the folds on Leroy's robe. "You joke but with what little I've seen you've got a lot of skill and power. It's something I wish I could do; to be able to push with your fingers, tell the world you want something done and have the world carry it out."

 

She gave Leroy a smile. "Then you'd probably say I have my artifacts and inventions but it isn't the same as it being innately part of you, you know?" She leaned in, elbows comfortably set on the table. "Most of our schoolmates has that going for them, and few of them know just how lucky they are for that."

 

She snorted and then fanned her face with her hand in exagerration. "Wow, it's been a while since anyone's called me a godess. But really, just like your sisters I devote my life to this. Ever since I was a kid it was 'Magic this' and 'Magic that' from my parents. Imagine your whole life subsumed by one thing, and when you find something outside of that and you latch to it. That was the Material for me and my work in Arcehetech developed that further."

 

"Isn't it always like that? Nature and nurture? You talk about your sisters and I couldn't help but think they got their love for the Astral and Material somewhere." She rested her chin on the back of her hands and swirled her finger in the air, thinking.

 

"If I were to gander a guess it'd be the same place where you learnt your skills? Your home? Where you have dragons and whalesquids and instant 5-star meals? It must be wonderful to have all that out so open for everyone to see unlike," and she gestured to the window and beyond. "Here. It's a different kind of wonder, I guess, but one which I'm accustomed to."

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue

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