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~:: The Kindness of Strangers - Chapter II ::~

She blinked in the soft lighting of the spacious shop, as her eyes adjusted from the glaring daylight outside. As they focused, they came to rest on the rows of mannequins that lined the walls. Each one was adorned in a different costume. Everything from darkest black to the brightest neon colors, they ranged in styles from revealing to armor-clad.

Her benefactor approached a well-dressed and important looking gentleman at the back counter. "Hello, Serge," he said, gesturing towards his small companion. "Can you help her?"

Serge could barely contain his disgust as he looked over her shabby garment, hanging loosely from her figure, and tied at the waist with what appeared to be a simple hemp cord. The robe was basically shapeless, making her look more like some desert nomadic shepherdess than a heroine.

"Of course, my good friend, I can do wonders for her," Serge answered. "In fact, I have a few items that I designed personally, in the back, that would look absolutely fabulous on someone of her diminutive size. Would the lady like to try them on?" he asked, smiling down at her.

She tried to speak, but her tongue still felt like it had swollen inside her mouth, and turned to dry flannel.

Sato spared her the struggle to answer. "Of course. And spare nothing, I am taking care of this."

Serge nodded and disappeared into the back. She looked up at the kind Mr. Sato, and tried to find her voice. "Don't worry about a thing," he said, quietly. "I do this for new heroes all the time. I don't expect anything in return, except for your hand in friendship."

Serge returned with his arms full of colorful garments, and motioned her towards the doors to the fitting rooms. She stood, mouth agape, in shock. Sato put his hand gently on her shoulder and guided her in the direction of the doors, as his friend preceded them into one of the cubicles and deposited the costumes on the bench.

"Please, take your time, miss. Try on what ever you like." Serge made a small bow, and quickly disappeared.

Sato smiled at her, and nodded towards the beautiful array of garments. "I will be right outside," he said, softly, and exited the cubicle, closing the door behind him.

She untied the rough cord from around her waist, and let it fall to the floor, opening the scratchy woolen robe, she let it drop from her shoulders, feeling a light breeze from the stores air conditioning unit graze her bare skin. She instinctively picked up the first garment, and tried to figure out where to place the tiny patches of cloth. Shaking her head, she decided that one probably wasn't for her. One by one, she inspected the tiny outfits, and shook her head. She picked up the last one, a pair of skin-tight pants that were made of a very soft material that was actually warm to her touch. The top appeared to be made of some kind of metal, strong, but at the same time, pliant. They were in shades ranging from a bright berry to a deep purple, and both had a rather opalescent sheen to them. Holding them up to her face, she realized Serge had done a wonderful job selecting the colors to match the shades of her rather prominent horns.

Sliding into the pants, she could swear she felt them moving, striving to best conform to the shape of her body. She struggled to pull on the top, and insure that the smooth metal was covering all the right areas.

Turning to face the mirrors, she gasped at her own reflection. She'd never really seen her own figure before, hiding it all her life behind the generous drapes of the traditional woolen robes she wore. The pants looked almost like they'd been painted directly on to her body. The top hugged her curves snugly, and lifted her bosom to nicely accentuate her generous cleavage.

She spun, and watched herself dance in the mirrors. Did she dare let others see her like this?

Sato answered the question for her by rapping softly on the door. "Is everything okay in there?"

"Yes," she said, shyly. She put one hand on the doorknob, and closing her eyes, slowly opened the door. She could swear she heard a slight gasp catch in his throat as she took one step out of the cubicle.

Serge reappeared, and nodded approvingly. "She does my creation the ultimate justice, do you not think, Sato, my friend?"

Sato nodded approvingly. "Beautiful."

"The pants are a special bio-engineered material. They are actually alive. The cloth contains its own miniature ecosystem, so that the enzymes it produces are always cleaning it, and in the event of any destruction, it can quickly repair itself. It is the very latest in technology." He motioned towards her chest, and continued, "The top is a special blend of synthetic poly fibers, a soft metal that is processed to form it into fine threads, and a cohesive material extracted from the silk of a certain species of spiders. It makes it pliant, yet strong, and able to resist an incredible amount of damage."

Her eyes widened at the talk of damage and destruction. What have I gotten myself in to, she wondered. She looked up, wide-eyed, at Sato. He nodded and said "We will take it. We also need some shoes, she can't run around barefoot."

She opened her mouth to tell him that was the way she'd spent most of her life, but thought better of it. Serge clapped his hands loudly, and out of nowhere, two of his assistants appeared, one bearing a strange looking device. They bade her to sit on a low stool, and place her foot on the cold metal. The second assistant disappeared, and returned with several boxes containing assorted footwear.

With the help of Serge, and the generous Hiroyuki Sato, she finally stood before them, adorned in the beautiful costume, with a matching pair of lovely boots, and at Serge's suggestion, a belt. When she pulled the charmed amulet her mother had given her out of her old robe, Serge was enthralled with the beauty of the oval jewel, and offered to mount it into her belt buckle. During the process, the jewel split directly down the middle, leaving two perfect oval stones. Serge apologized profusely, while she reassured him that the power of the amulet would not be affected, and there was no need for apologies. She tucked the second stone down the front of her décolletage, and turned to Mr. Sato.

"I don't know what to say."

"You don't need to say anything at all," he said, putting a hand gently on her shoulder. "I am happy to be able to help you. Now, tell me, where do you need to go?" She looked at him, confused, and stammered, "I, umm… really don't know. I must find some kind of trade, and lodging."

"What kind of work can you do?" he asked softly.

"I am not sure," she said. "My mother is a seer, and she has seen to my needs for my entire life, up to this point. I have only just arrived at this place, and have really no idea what I am going to do next." Suddenly the magnitude of her situation struck her, and made her eyes sting as she blinked back tears.

"Do not worry," Sato said, in a calm, reassuring tone, "I have many friends who will help you. You are not alone."

She bowed her head, and stared at her newly booted feet. "Why are you doing this?" she asked him, quietly.

"I told you. I love helping new heroes. Someday, you will be doing the very same thing for others."

"Are you a seer?" she asked.

"No," he laughed softly. "I have spent my life studying the behavior of others, and I can tell that this is the path you are most likely to take."

She nodded her assent to him. "I have no words to express my thanks to you."

He smiled. "I have a spare room, if you need a place to stay until you get on your feet."

"I have imposed on your generosity enough," she stated firmly. "I must make my own way here."

"Then do you as you must, but remember, I will be keeping a watchful eye over you."

"And for that, I will be very grateful." With that, she nodded, and stepped out into the sunlight, walking quietly at his side, until they came to the monorail station. She looked up with him as her eyes moistened from the overwhelming flood of emotion. "Again," she began slowly, "I cannot find words to express my gratitude for all you have done for me."

"You need to return to Atlas Park. Find the one who calls herself Azuria. She is usually working in the M.A.G.I. office in the basement of the city hall. She will find you some work, and very likely a safe place in Atlas Park to stay until you can get on your feet."

She felt an overwhelming urge to hug him, and as she lunged forward, she nearly toppled him with her enthusiasm. "Thank you, so much, for everything."

As he stood on the platform, and waved to her as she boarded the tram, he smiled and said, "That is part of what makes this a City of Heroes. You will never fail to find the kindness of strangers, here."