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This is a Title.

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1 This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 1:44 pm

Humidity. Everywhere you go in Skycrest, humidity. It's been like this for weeks now, and it wasn't expected to change for several more. It was peculiar, the humidity being so densely palpable while the air still held onto it's usual briskness. Most of the city's dwellers were used to it, but given it's my first 'Summer' in the floating city, it wasn't something I was accustomed to yet. 

No wonder the city seemed to creak and whine, with every building having it's own worn facade of rust and tarnish, so unique it could be it's fingerprint. Just ahead, Gahagan's General Shoppe, with its walls peeling in flecks like old paint, or MechDonald's Market, whose wall's patina shoots and branches up it's side like a lightning strike. For the first several weeks I was in the city, the buildings and their markings were my only map. The lightning streaking across Mech's marking the left I'd take, and beyond that the remnants of Baggins's Bearer Bonds & Balances lettering standing brown against the green tinge of tarnish marked the block where busking was safest. Baggins's had long been closed, it's sign ripped from it's facade and innards gutted to allow for flats. Flats that were rented to those only a rung above myself in the economic standing of the city. Plenty of children running in and out, and plenty of children to woo with cheap baubles in exchange for a few coins. 

Coin I would need, and soon, if I wanted to get my vox system fixed. Only a few of the buttons even worked anymore, and being new to the city, I couldn't even fathom where to bring it. The tech's in this city are far less welcoming to the witches than I'd anticipated, and it didn't take me long to figure out that what I'd thought would be a cheap fix is going to be quite expensive indeed. It had me longing for Reach's End. 

The hours it took to get through my wares dragged on, my inability to properly get anyone's attention a horrible hindrance on my ability to sell my wares. When the day started, only 10 letters on my keyboard worked. L, O, I, U, Y, T, R, E, D,  and X. Turns out, 'Loox,' isn't quite as charming as you'd think. 'You Loox' actually gets some annoyed glares.  If it weren't for the children, I'd have sold nothing. These brave little children, who gather around my table just after lunch, to watch the 'scary witch in the big mask' make her crystals. They'd ask for certain colors or shapes, begging for horses or birds, but those requests were beyond me. No, with my limited means and muteness, the best I can offer them are cracked orbs and misshapen ovals.

A child had just offered me their broken doll in exchange for one of those orbs when the rain started, sending the children inside and along with them the last of my goods. I'd only made a third of what I'd hoped to, but it was better than nothing. Packing up my things, I load the pockets of my coat with the empty potion satchels and mixing bowls, collapsing my table and breaking it down so it can fit into the bag slung over my shoulder. 

Swinging the bag back around, I can hear something crack, then a rattle. Defeated, I raise the keyboard positioned on my arm and start testing the remaining keys. None of them work. I'm growing frantic as I push at them hopelessly, turning my arm over and shaking it gently as rusty water drips out, a few tiny screws and gears hitting the pavement. It's shot. Fuck. 


I'd been holding onto those few remaining keys in the hopes I could find someone decent to work on it. Someone who wouldn't quadruple the price based solely on my profession and my reliance on the machine. I'd been to almost every shop on my route home, each one giving an ungodly estimate for what was - at the time - a simple fix.

Starting home, I go one block further out on my sweep of the shops, hopeful that one of them will be willing to at least look at the vox tonight. I try to take my mind off of the helplessness I feel with my voice gone, instead curling my arms tightly under my coat as I take note of the buildings and their fingerprints. Walls aged like a chessboard, tiles of brass and iron alternating for an earthy pattern of rusted and patina'd squares. Buildings where the whole of them are tarnished except for a line at hip height, where children run by and drag their fingers across the metal, keeping the sheen clean and bright. 

The street is hardly full this late in the evening, but the rain is beating down just enough to keep casual shoppers indoors, so they're nearly desolate. Honestly, the only sound on the entire street is coming from a block up, the mechanical whir of gears churning as a door opens, and out from a storefront sign, a bird pops, chirping off the hours.

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2 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 2:42 pm

The rain has chased away the steady flow of looky-loos and the occasional paying customer that had filtered through the shop earlier this morning, leaving me with nothing but time and the soothing pitter patter of rain hitting the cobbles and stained glass of the storefront. The noise and humidity triggers a new set of noisemakers outside the store, the musical chirping of birds joining the sound of rain in a cheery song.

My own humming and whistling joins the noise as I work on one of the many projects behind the counter, my back to the door. I'm still vaguely aware of people passing the front of the shop, the occasional person stopping to admire the mechanical birds fluttering down to the window sill just long enough to chirp at them before popping back up to the sign before their clockwork can wind down.

The chime of the front door catches me off-guard before a voice pitters out of a speaker next to it inviting the customer to browse at their leisure. There's a grainy sound to the voice that grates on my nerves, hardly noticeable to anyone else, but the less than perfect quality of it offends my sensitive ears. I'll need to fix that before it gets worse.

My gaze never leaves my work as my attention turns to the newcomer. Her footsteps are light, if a little shifty, her presence almost apologetic as she looks around hesitantly. Still, there's a purpose to her presence that tells me she isn't here just to gawk.

"Something I can help you find?" I call to her absently as she starts looking around in a slow beeline toward the counter.

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3 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 2:50 pm

I glance towards the man at the counter, clearing my throat a bit in hopes he'll turn to face me as I look around the shop. Aside from the noise emanating from various baubles, it's not too unlike the other shops I've visited in the past weeks. Still, the way the songs seem to work together are pleasant, no one item seemingly out of place in it's occasional whistle. 

Noticing the man still has his back to me as I approach the counter, I tap it lightly as I watch him, frowning inside my mask as I clear my throat again. Look at me, I will him as I begin unlacing the leather wrapped around my wrist.

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4 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 3:03 pm

As she gets closer, I can smell the cloying aroma of potions and magic. Her continued silence puts my teeth on edge, my thoughts bounding toward her motives. The only witches that come into my shop are either friends or instigators of drama, and since I don't know this woman, I can only speculate on what harassment she might be aiming toward.

She continues to tap and humph at the counter, her impatience becoming palpable. I roll my eyes silently. Waiting for me to turn around so I can be shocked by her appearance, no doubt. The last witch that played this game with me wound up horribly embarrassed. I wipe my hands on a rag and turn around to rest them on the counter, my friendliest smile plastered on my face as I stare vacantly at the darkness in front of me.

"Take your time, doll," I say patiently, waiting for her to spit out what it is she wants. "I've got all day."

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5 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 3:17 pm

I'm perplexed by the vacant stare until it registers, a half-laugh/half-whine sticking in my throat as I set the keyboard on the counter and tug at my gloves. He's blind, of course. I consider, for a brief moment, just leaving his shop, but a blind tech might be the best hope I've got as far as fixing my vox mask goes. 

Gloves tucked into my pocket, I reach up to pull at the lacing at the back of my mask, loosening it and releasing the cord that feeds from the speaker through my shirt to the keyboard sitting on the counter. Removing my mask in public is something I haven't done since it was given to me in Reach's End, but something tells me this man won't react in horror. It takes me a few moments, working it off of my head and removing the rag that sits just inside the chin of the mask, fitting into the hollow of my missing jaw. It's damp from the rain as well as the drool that's impossible to avoid when your face is missing some of it's key components. 

I shove the dirty rag into my pocket quickly as I drop the mask onto the counter as well, shoving it towards him. 

"Mm!" I practically huff, tapping the speaker roughly.

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6 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 3:33 pm

I can feel my face twisting with annoyance and confusion as I hear the heavy clunk of leather and metal on the counter, the insistent tapping on what I assume is a speaker doing little to enlighten me to the woman's request. My hands slip from the counter as I stare vacantly, my head cocking a bit as I try to figure out what, "Mm!" is supposed to mean.

"Ma'am, you're going to have to be a little more articulate," I say flatly, trying my best not to let my nose crinkle up visibly at the smell issuing from the helmet she's put on the counter. "I can't see what you're pointing to, and I'm not touching anything until I know what it is. Safety first, you know - Tech's First Rule."

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7 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 3:40 pm

My fists clench in annoyance as I tap incessantly on the counter before pulling another clean rag from my pocket, wiping at my face. My heart is pounding as I lean forward to grab at his sleeve, tugging his arm upright as I wrap my hand around the back of his. Before I can convince myself otherwise, I lean forward and pull his hand against my jaw with as much strength as I can muster, pressing it into the hollow as I huff at him. I hum and whine, the vibrations ringing through his hand as loudly as I can make them as I will him to understand. 

I release his hand as he jerks it away from me. At this point, angry tears are welling in my eyes as I push the broken vox machine towards him.

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8 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 3:53 pm

Clarity hits me hard, bringing with it a wave of inspiration that I'm sure lights up my face with understanding and eagerness as I nod quickly. My hand still tingles with the vibration from her humming, the words she'd tried to form resonating up my arm, searching for a way to translate into something audible.

"Ah," I say simply, now more than happy to touch the device she's shoved toward me. "Well, that's an easy enough fix. What kind of device are you using here? Can you show me how it works?"

I'm already horribly unimpressed with what she's put in front of me, my fingers tracing the edge of an unsightly mask, complete with a large sonophone bell to direct sound out from the side. I'm more offended by the hideous device than I am from having my hand pressed against the damp disfigurement of her jaw, it's lack of subtlety bringing a frown to my lips.

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9 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 4:02 pm

I frown slightly as I tuck the rag into my pocket to pick up the keyboard, clicking pointlessly at the keys before holding it up towards him. I watch him tensely as he sets my mask down to turn his attention to the keyboard, reaching for it despite my reluctance to let it go. If he takes it and begins to work on it, I'll never get it back without paying for it. It's not something I'm ready to do, even if it is broken. 

More gently this time, I reach for his hand, waiting for his permission before I drag it across the keyboard. I can feel his hand relax a bit, understanding my intentions as I guide his fingers over the letters. C-O-S-T.

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10 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 4:16 pm

"Hmm," I hum at the question, taking the keyboard from her gently so I can click at the keys and touch the wires coming from it. It only takes a few keystrokes for me to pinpoint the issue, and I'm able to come up with a quick estimate on the spot. But the words don't make it past my lips as I continue to tinker with it for a moment, pretending to troubleshoot as I listen to the woman.

Her anxiety is palpable, her gaze darting toward the front of the store occasionally. Keeping an eye out for any potential onlookers. She's self-conscious, that much is obvious. I suppose I would be, too, if I had any concept of physical appearance. It's not a big leap to tell she's probably not the most well off, either, given she's missing half of her jaw - and no amount of money could convince me that this monstrosity in my hands can articulate well enough for her to use the magic that would keep her from poverty in this city.

"I'll tell you what," I say finally as I offer her the keyboard again so I can dig around under the counter for another mask. It doesn't do what she needs, but it will at least spare her vanity in the meantime. "Why don't you give me a few days with it, and once I've come up with a solution, we can work something out? Don't worry about coin. For projects like this, I find it's much more lucrative for both of us if we work on trade, if that's alright with you?"

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11 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 4:25 pm

Taking the offered mask, I nod softly before humming a soft 'mm-hmm'. I don't love the prospect of being in debt, but being mute leaves me even further fucked than I was. A few days without the mask would give me time to rest, sort out my finances, and figure out where I stand for the next month or so. If I won't owe him what meager amount I've saved up, then maybe I can finally get some proper ingredients for my wares, or even a decent coat for the rainy weather.

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12 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 4:27 pm

"Do you have a way for me to contact you if I have questions?" I ask as I grab a bin to put the mask in. "I know the wires won't work well, but if you have an address, I can send one of the little ones to send a message."

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13 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 4:36 pm

I watch with a pained expression as he tucks my mask away, looking at him as I reach for the keyboard on the counter still. I notice the small puddle underneath it, frowning at the mess as he reaches up to offer me his hand. 

8-5 E D-O-W-N-I-N-G. He nods his understanding as he takes the keyboard to inspect, and I step back from the counter hesitantly. Pulling my gloves on, I right the mask to put on as I turn for the door, glancing back towards him as I swallow thickly. 

"-Ankoo." I wince at the harshness of it, the wet and ill-defined speech. Holding the mask to my face, I step out of the door and into the rain.

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14 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 5:24 pm

***

Two days pass, and the woman (whose name I completely neglected to collect) has left me to my work. Her mask, with all it's cheap and decaying leather and tarnished bronze, has been completely dismantled on my desk. I've done nothing that remotely resembles fixing it aside from drying the moisture that had collected inside of it. Even with the right motivation and skill, the circuit board for her keyboard is fried, and fixing the loose wiring would only be a bandaid fix before the entire unit failed her permanently.

I could replace the circuit board, true, but the artisan in me can't abide a young woman walking the streets in a mask that belongs in the history books alongside the war and ugliness that takes place on the earth below us. It's unseemly, and if Skycrest stands for anything, it's beauty and innovation - not gas masks turned gramophone.

Needless to say, it's with great pleasure that I drop the pieces of bronze into the melting pot in the back of the shop. I already have a broad idea of what I intend to do for the woman, the bare bones rough draft already fitted to an aged mannequin beside my desk, notes written in raised ink in a gibberish language only I can piece together beside it. The metal from her old mask is useless as far as functionality goes, but I'm sure I can get a few vanity pieces out of it to adorn the finished works.

It's a long and arduous task to shape the metal, sweat dripping off of my brow as I work. I barely notice the hair on the back of my hands singing off before I've moved on to the delicate task of assembling the fine clockwork and attaching it, fully functional, to the metallic lining of a collar while the vanity pieces cool. The gears and springs for this task are so small and thin, they're almost like fabric in the way that they flex and move together against the lining.

I can't see it, but I know that the tiny crystals I use to shape the vox unit glimmer in the light, each facet catching it and bending it into colors I can only begin to imagine. Far from done, I sit back and smile slightly at what I've accomplished so far. Even without my sight, I can appreciate the beauty of it, the pang of loss doing little to dampen my spirits as I wonder what it must look like. Most of what I make favors golds and bronzes with bright highlights of color from items that used to please my mother when I was growing up. It's a template I'm quick to fall back on for general purposes, but this isn't a general item that'll go up in the store.

Unable to proceed without more information, I get up from my workbench and grab my jacket off of the hook by the door. I know exactly where the woman's home can be found, and it's a small task to walk the few blocks in that direction, sight cane in hand to guide my way. When I knock on her door, it takes her a moment to answer - finding her mask, I conclude - before the door opens and I smile broadly.

"Hi," I say cheerfully. "What's your favorite color?"

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15 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 11:17 pm

I'm still confused as he looks vacantly past me expecting an answer, clearing my throat uncomfortably as I step back and reach over to tug his sleeve so he knows to come in. I glance around the small apartment, grateful the man can't see it's cramped walls and cluttered surfaces, as I go to sit back on the bed. I haven't the slightest clue how I'm going to answer him, so instead I remove my mask and watch him.

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16 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 11:24 pm

I cock my head slightly as I step into the small apartment, my hands coming to rest atop my cane as I wait for her to answer. It takes me a second to remember that she can't before I take a deep breath and wince apologetically.

"Right, sorry," I say quickly as I reach into my pocket to pull out a small keyboard - not unsimilar to the one she had on her vox mask. "So you can communicate... but, uhm, it's sort of useless for use on the street. It just chimes when you push the buttons, but I'll at least recognize them."

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17 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 11:27 pm

I rise onto my knees to take the keyboard, looking at it curiously as I glance towards him with a smile. 

"Thank you." I type, hesitating between words to ensure I'm not moving too quickly before looking up at him.

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18 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 11:31 pm

I smile lightly, bowing slightly as I nod toward her, my head cocking toward the musical chime of the keys. "You're very welcome," I acknowledge before pointing offhandedly toward the keyboard. "That's how I learned my ABC's right there, my mum made it just for that. So, you know, don't lose it."

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19 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 11:39 pm

I nod quickly before realizing, yet again, the man can't see me.

"I won't." I type out, settling onto my bed as I look around the room a bit sadly. "No chairs, but you can sit on a pillow." I type a bit quickly, leaning over to grab a pillow and hold up towards him in offering.

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20 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 11:42 pm

"Thank you," I say as I hold a hand out, the back of my fingers brushing blindly over the pillow before I find it. I'm happy to take a seat on the floor nearby, my head tilting toward her again. "So you never did answer me. What's your favorite color? And do you prefer brown leather or red?"

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21 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 11:44 pm

"Purple," I respond, my legs curling before me as I settle in with the keyboard. "And either." 

"Do you want something to drink?"

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22 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 11:49 pm

It's not the most ideal means of communication, the chiming keyboard taking time for the woman to spell out each word, and more time still for me to decode it.

"Sure," I nod after a moment. "I mean, usually I get a girl's name before accepting drinks in her home, but I suppose I can make an exception."

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23 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 11:52 pm

I can't help but grin as I set the keyboard down, crawling over it and going to the small set up near the door. Just a few meager cabinets, one of which is a small fridge. Inside, bottles of water, with a few glass bottles of soda pop and juice tucked into the corner. 

I toy with the idea of trying to sound out the option, the loose form of water even wandering over my tongue before I grab all three and head back to the bed before setting them down to grab the keyboard.

"Water, soda, apple juice." I type out, glancing up at him, "Which."

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24 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 11:55 pm

"Soda, please," I nod before holding a hand out as she passes me the bottle. The pop of the cap is satisfying, the ridged metal biting into my palm as I twist it off. "I'm Marnin - or, if you're my neighbor, that asshole with that store."

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25 Re: This is a Title. on Wed Oct 26, 2016 11:58 pm

I grin a bit, dropping the water on the floor as I pick up the apple juice before my hand hovers over the keyboard.

"Its musical." I laugh softly, "I'm Ljuba."

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