There wasn’t exactly a halt in the conversations. A few faded while others grew more animated, and a few low whistles could be heard. The hairs on the back of Ilya’s neck bristled at all the hungry eyes dragging their gazes over her body. Even in the cool and warm lights scattered about the street, the dark features of the Moungren men made it difficult to see anything but the eyes. Those who had been facing the various stalls and windows turned to see what the fuss was about.
Mari tried to move casually through them but a few bodies seemed to move just enough to block her way. She pretended to stretch in boredom and looked around.
“Keep an eye on that gentleman to your right.” Sieffre whispered.
“Orange jacket in front of the taller man. I’m reading a lot of lusty and amused expressions, but this man is angry. I’m seeing hate behind his… ardor.”
Mari glanced but kept her eyes moving as she slowly twirled. He was easy to spot. Mostly everyone else was clothed in black with reflecting strips.
“The men around him are going to follow his lead.”
“Shit! That’s great.”
“We could have stuck to the alleys, Mari.”
“Now he tells me… and gone where?”
Mari spotted a harmless looking man leaning against one of the fried food stalls. His expression was so dumbfounded in the blue lamplight that she had some serious doubts a light was on inside. She eased herself next to him, her back against the makeshift counter. Awkwardly, she realized she was half a head taller than he was and slouched as low as she could.
“Hello.” She breathed the commons in a low sultry tone. The poor man had been eating his fried bits of food out of a paper cone, but next mouthful was held forgotten halfway to his mouth. Keeping the orange jacket in the corner of her eye, she reached over and grabbed a handful of…yup, fried roaches, popping them into her mouth nonchalantly. The greasy heat sliding down to her stomach gave her goose bumps.
“What es jyour name?” She reached up and ran a hand over her shaved head, silently cursing herself for deciding to cut it all when she had first arrived. A long mane of hair would really help her out right now.
“… Uh… hm… Frantz. Mah name ees Frantz.”
“They speak commons but would prefer their own language when feeling more… intimate. Try this…” Sieffre started scrolling the phonetic text across her vision.
“Here mwe dousdou, ess this better?”
Frantz started with a new look of surprise. Possibly too nervous to answer, he mustered a tight smile and nodded.
“Et ess a cold night, no?”
He nodded again, “True.”
“Don’t waste your time wit dat one, dousdou.” A voice shouted in commons from the crowd which in turn erupted in laughter.
She looked up but couldn’t distinguish a speaker. However, Mari did notice that the storefront window across the street had been completely smashed in. A glance down the way showed that all store fronts had been broken into. Though warm lights were on in most of them and she could see men calmly standing at their doorways, anything glass lay shattered and the spaces obviously rummaged through. Making her wonder how many owners were actually still manning their stores.
“Mari, behind you.”
Before she could turn her head, Mari could feel a body press up beside her. An arm wrapped behind shoulders in the pretext of leaning on the counter.
“He can’t take care of you, sweetness, but I can.”
Mari tried to lean away without seeming fearful. That could set someone off, and that could be very, very bad. She settled for tilting her head back to lean against poor little Frantz.
“Can you, now?” She rolled her head to one side. She hoped it was a flirtatious peak she was shooting him from the corner of her eye. “Et ess a dark, scary night out there. There ess one thing you could do.”
“You could help Frantz escort meh home, no?”
The man leaned over her a little too closely, his breath sour with some aptly named moon shine.
“We don’t need little Frantz, dousdou. My friends can come along to make you feel safe.”
Mari fought to keep her heart from racing as the crowd started pressing forward. The orange jacket missing from view for the moment.
“Oh, jyes. The more the merrier, no? Mah sisters would be so grateful.”
The man blinked. “Sisters?”
“Jyes, of course, but jyou knew that.”
The man turned to look to his friends, giving Mari some fresh air to breathe.
“Ah, man,” said one of the chubbier men, “she’s from the Den.”
“Yup! Den of Sin. One of two brothels in the settlement.”
The drunken man turned back to her and Mari smiled broadly. There was a sudden shift in the men. A few were disappointed, others were laughing. As expected, a brothel on a moon like this offered a certain amount of protection.
“Well, mah boys. What are we waiting for?” The crowd looked at her confused.
“I said mah sisters would be very grateful if you could help meh home. Lead the way!”
The men looked around, she saw a few shrugs before a few cheered back. They looked amongst each other again and then all roared a new cheer. Why hadn’t they thought of this before?? The drunken man kept his arm around Mari’s shoulders as the crowd paraded their way down the street.
“Come, Frantz, jyou too.” She grabbed him by the puffy collar of his jacket and wrapped her own arm around his shoulders, deftly picking at his paper cone of fried bugs with the other hand. To her relief, she didn’t see an orange jacket anywhere in the procession. Though, curiously, she did catch sight of what she assumed to be a very tall and broad shouldered Novafolk man standing in the shadow of another avenue. He seemed a little surprised when their eyes met. Considering the tensions between the Moungren miners and the Novafolk bureaucrats lately, she felt it best not to draw attention to him. Though something about the suitcase he was holding nagged at her.
“I suppose the fact you don’t actually work at the Den will not be a problem.”
“With the amount of business I’m about to bring them, I’ll be able to negotiate a free room for the night AND a discounted rate for the men here. And if they insist I work a little for it, I’ll have ol’ Frantz here to keep me company.” She popped another handful of fried bugs into her mouth.
“If you wanted the fried bugs that badly, I could have finagled a credit profile for you.”
“Meh… You just work on contacting the ship.”
“Yes, about that.”