Skyfire Stories: Xiao Lai

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 Skyfire Chapters: Xiao Lai

The breeze flitted uninhibited across the mountain top. Broken bits of a symphony wafted on the wind, born from a distant band. The wedding was, in a word, spectacular. The venue was blanketed in muslin and samite pure as the driven snow. The temperature was just right, cool enough to accommodate the scores of people in three piece suits and heavy elegant gowns. It was like something out of an old story, tales of grand balls from the Former Era they taught in school civics.

People milled all over the expansive yard, some engaged in conversation, some enjoying the scenery, and still others trying desperately to blend in to a crowd they had absolutely no business being seen in. The last was the case for at least one gentlemen, who tried his very best to look nonchalant as he leaned against the open bar set near the reflecting pool.

Floral arrangements abound of jasmine, lily and baby’s breath that set the man in his dark suit in stark contrast. He stood with one elbow atop the white bar, brown eyes looking hither and non around the area – and looking quickly away when someone caught his gaze. He wore a fine Armani suit, crisp and clean as though it had never been worn. The lapels were finely pressed and shimmered like silk, the sleeves hosting polished gold buttons. Tailored pants fell to recently polished black dress shoes. Beneath he wore a coal-black vest of silk embroidered in black thread in to the pattern of dancing dragons. A white shirt served as the canvas for the straight black tie tucked in to the coat. His bulging gut threatened to burst the entire ensemble to rags.

He absently ran a hand through his thinning brown hair, briefly revealing the cheap knock-off Omega watch on his right wrist. In his other hand was gently held the stem of a crystal win glass, the dark red liquid within sloshing dangerously. A straw swam within.

A blast of air ruffled his combover, which set him in to a flustered spiral of trying to hide the fact and still retaining some degree of dignity. Luckily no one was paying any attention, and all eyes were on the sizable verti-car landing in the driveway. On it’s sides were painted two hearts – one red and one blue.

Cheeeeeeese, the man thought, rolling his eyes. But even the voice in his head sounded bitter. He looked on as the extravagant car landed, and two frightening-looking bodyguards issued forth. His mouth worked to find the straw in his wine glass while his eyes remained locked on the scene before him.

“You look like a complete moron,” a voice intruded. Another young gentleman had appeared beside the pudgy party-goer, clad in a smart metallic grey suit. He smiled pleasantly at the other guests while hissing through the side of his mouth. He was about the same size as the man, both in height and weight, but where his was evenly distributed the man in black seemed to keep the bulk of his excess weight in his belly. It looked, in essence, like a conversation between a pear and an apple in suits.

“I was pretty sure you were under strict instructions not to act like a narc.” The grey-clad man turned, away from the crowd that had gathered to greet the Prime Minister of the Western Alliance. “The whole reason you came out here was to meet people and get of that damn computer anyway, Xiao Lai. And here you are drinking wine with a straw like you ate paint chips when you were a kid.”

“What,” Xiao Lai responded with a scowl. “Do you have any idea how much this suit costs? If I get wine on it they wont take it back tomorrow.” Finally his wormy lips found the dangling straw and he took a long slurpy sip, much to the consternation of his friend. If he were being honest, though, he did mostly to mess with him.

Xiao Lai wasn’t anyone special. He wasn’t a dignitary, no political elite. He was nobody, but his friend wasn’t. His friend, JP, was a government employee on the up and up. JP had been trying to get Lai out of the house for ages, to go meet people and mingle. Xiao Lai, in retaliation, chose instead to grow out a patchy and hideous beard.

Pudgy fingers scratched at the scraggly face-forest as he continued. “I’m a teacher dude. What am I supposed to say? ‘Oh! Hello Mister Governor of the Outer Territories and his twenty year old mistress! Some party huh? Do you want to conjugate some verbs with me?’”

JP slapped his hand down where it was drawing dangerously close to picking his nose. “Stop! And drink like a human, do you even know what kind of wine that is?”

Xiao Lai adopted his best hoity-toity expression. “Oh well hmm let’s see. A fruity flavor aged in an oaken barrel – I’M A TEACHER WHO MAKES SLAVE WAGES MAN! All that wine-tasting malarkey is nonsense anyway. Like seriously, people buy the nice stuff to show off to their friends.”

His friend scowled piteously, slapping a hand on his shoulder and staring in to his eyes to get his attention. “You’re a sad little man. Get away from the bar. Find someone who doesn’t look like a walking Victoria Secret catalogue and pray she doesn’t mace you. Maybe you’ll get lucky.”

He let his arm drop and left without another word, seamlessly entering in to conversation with a regal looking couple nearby. Xiao Lai, meanwhile, took a particularly audible slurp of his wine.

But he knew his friend was correct, and he should mingle. With herculean effort he pushed himself from the bar and headed towards the music.

The band had been set up near the podium where the actual wedding ceremony would be held. They were a quartet currently, though the various seats and instruments set on stage indicated the others were on break or otherwise indisposed. The four remaining were quite good by themselves, though. They were organized like a Former Era rock band; drums, guitar, a keyboard and vocals. As Xiao Lai drew closer he was able to spy their matching outfits. Tight

bellbottom pants, cream jackets and baby blue shirts unbuttoned to mid-chest. Their hair was cut long, curly, and they glittered with the odd bit of gold jewelry.

As he arrived they struck up another tune, the immediate area vibrant with the sound of synthetic keyboard and vocals several octaves higher than any man had any right to produce.

“My baby moves at midnight/goes right on to the dawn..”

It was like a cold hand gripped his spine, and Xiao Lai’s face stiffened to suffer what his friends liked to call Forrest Whitaker eye – a Former Era affliction where half your face paralyzes from sheer stupidity or emotional distress. In this case the cause was clear.

“Disco,” he growled.

He moved as though to escape, but caught a flash of red in the corner of his eye. A woman in an ornate qipao stood behind the speakers, staring wistfully in to the middle distance. She was tall, thin, like something out of a Victoria Secret ca-

Xiao Lai shook his head to free himself from his friend’s voice, which had – for some reason – tried to invade his thoughts. This vision of loveliness was alone, beautiful and lonely. What sort of gentleman would he be if he didn’t do something about that? What, though?

“What you doin’ on your back.. Aahhhhh.. What you doin on your back.. Aaahhh. You should be daaaancin., yeeaahhh!”

And there it was, the advice he craved spat from the lips of a passable Beegees impersonator, a sign from the universe. Thus, did he begin to sway.

It began slowly at first; bopping the head, a little swivel of the shoulders. He kept casting glances her way to see if she was watching, but she had yet to notice him, instead engrossed in something happening behind him.

Time to step this up, he thought. He broke in to the Drunken Sailor, hips rolling with his drink in one hand and an invisible cigarette in the other.

“You should be daaaancin’” he mouthed with the music, giving his shoulders a little shimmy her way. There! She cast him a quick look and… Was that a smile? It was! Definitly a smile.

He moved effortlessly in to some strange conglomeration of the Bus Driver and Saturday Night Fever, and had started to draw a little bit of a crowd. He wasn’t paying much attention, absorbed as he was with his sick moves, but they all seemed engrossed, or just grossed. Whatever.

But it was now or never. When approaching a woman you couldn’t let too much time elapse or you’d miss your window. So with a stutter step and a swing of the hips he swayed towards her. The band had finished their set, and a hush fell over the gardens. He stepped closer, passing in front of the speaker. He opened his mouth to say hello…

“LET THE WEDDING BEGIN!” The speakers a foot away from Xiao Lai’s ears positively bellowed the announcement, and for an instant his head rang like someone smashed it with a sledgehammer. By the time he’d gotten his bearings, he saw the back of the red woman disappearing in to the crowd. Xiao Lai shot a venomous glance at the Master of Ceremonies, his newest mortal enemy.

He followed the scores of people as they filed towards their seats, and watched quietly as the mechas flew by overhead in – what he felt – was an unnecessarily showy display. Hmph, he complained inwardly, wasteful.

Finally, it was time for the ceremony itself to commence, as indicated by that hateful devil spawn MC. “Next, we request the bride make her entrance!”

“Blah blah blah I’m a self-important overpaid –“ he stopped when he realized the people next to him were staring. Sluuurp from his makeshift wine slurpy cup.

It was beautiful, admittedly. No expense had been spared to make this the wedding of the century, and as the choir singing he turned to watch Zhou Qianlin exit.

He whistled in appreciation, which earned him a slap from JP.

Just as he was turning to share a piece of his mind, he was wrenched back to the ceremony by a terrible Oooaaghh. He looked passed his friend, and his mouth dropped open. Not ten feet away was a massive, hairy, horrifying ape.

“What the –“

“Aaaahhhh!!”

Madness ensued, with people scrambling over each other to get out of the way. Ciao Lai, still stunned, hardly noticed the giant tiger-man to his left about to stomp on him.

“You IDIOT” he heard, just before being shoved aside by JP. Finally he gathered his wits about him and raised to a stooped position, looking around to see what had become in an instant a terrifying landscape of destruction and naked monkey people.

“Dude! What kind of party is this? This is some Eyes Wide Shut stuff here!”

“Move it! We got to get inside!” He felt himself being half-dragged away from the scene, when the skies grew dark. Lightning began to fall without warning, followed by deafening peels of thunder. The apocalyptic scene took Xiao Lai’s breath away, and he stood in awe and terror. Then the world grew blazing white as a bolt of lightning landed somewhere behind him. Slowly he turned. Slowly he raised his head. Just in time to see the burnt remains of the ape man’s backside come crashing down atop him.

*

Hours after the incident security forces had begun to get things under control. Police and secret service combed the area for any trace of the man called Zeus, for some indication of where he’d fled to. Casualties were seen to, and medical teams assembled. JP stumbled like a man in a dream, wandering the wreckage for any sign of his friend. Finally he saw him, sobbing pitifully in a ruined suit, torn and stained with something unspeakable.

“Oh.. Oh man. Lai! Thank God, are you alright? Stop crying look we’ll have you taken care of. What hurts?”

“N-no,” Lai managed to spit out between sobs. “I-I’m n-not hurt.”

“Then what is it dude? Why are you so upset?”

Xiao Lai looked up at his friend with eyes drowned in crystal tears, red and puffy.

“How am I supposed to return this suit now?”


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