Chapter 6: An Unlikely Savior

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Five Years Fair, The White City

On the street, disguised in plain robes like commoners, Val felt the keen blade of panic

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On the street, disguised in plain robes like commoners, Val felt the keen blade of panic. There were simply too many people. Too many people crushing around him. And they were dangerous. Clearly. 

They brushed past a shirtless man whose knotted muscles pulsed with a spiderweb of surging veins. A little farther was a razor-thin woman wavering on a street corner, her strangely minuscule head shaved to the scalp and covered nearly head to toe in hellish and demonic tattoos. Glistening metal rings extruded from multiple orifices: ears, nose, mouth.

"Hi, boys," she said as she passed, hoarse whisper and piercing gaze aimed at Val.

Val's tongue was suddenly heavier than iron and his face burned like a blacksmith forge. He spun away in haste.

"Hi, gorgeous," said Pall. Her eyelids batted into a blur.

"Pall!" Val said, dragging his brother into the relative safety of the crowds. "What are you thinking?"

"Relax, little brother! Don't be such a nervous prude! Tahala's flames! Can't you live a little?" He retrieved a silver flask from his robes and threw his head back for a long sip. "When was the last time you even touched a girl?"

Val boiled in his cloak.

"How did you expect to keep a beauty like Portencia satisfied without even a clue of the basics?" 

The truth was, Val found the idea of even just a formal Attendance with Princess Portencia terrifying much less keeping her satisfied

Doesn't matter now, anyway. Val sulked as they walked on.

It was a short distance from their inn to the busiest part of the city adjacent the towering Coliseum. As they bumped and weaved through the crowd, they passed two gorgeous young commoners wearing stunning, effervescently colored gowns and heaping necklaces of golden Fair beads. Val's head snapped around to follow them as they past.

Pall slapped his shoulder. "Brother! You'll twist your head right off! We have to get some of those beads."

"Aren't they for women?"

"No, they are for men to give to women. And in return, the lady customarily will offer a kiss. Or, as the night gets later, something better."

"Better?" Val choked.

"You linger too much in that library, little brother." He laughed, harder than necessary. "Everybody knows women will bear their breasts for Fair beads when the madness of the night is on them! Don't look so frightened. You'll see worse if you stay out long enough!"

Two blocks farther they reached a long row of tents for the transient vendors not able to procure permits to peddle within the main fairgrounds. But it was these peripheral vendors, his older brother explained, that formed the true heart of the Five Year's Fair.

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