Logs:Secrecy and Truth

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Secrecy and Truth

Characters: Mingzhu and Seth
Date: 2020-06-03
Summary: Mingzhu and Seth meet in the Lee Circle Library Elysium, and discuss everything from the anatomy of a secret to the balance of loyalty and slavery.

.oO( Restricted Section - Lee Circle Library - Central City )Oo...........o.

From somewhere in the auditorium, Seth has scrounged up a loose fold-out chair. Eschewing all of the very organized and official looking seating, he's instead set himself at the edge of one of the glowing light fixtures, on the liminal boundary between light and shadows. Tonight Seth is wearing a bright green shirt with distinctive golden patterning across the chest (intrepid nerds will recognize the Legend of Zelda), black jeans, and black sandals, with his brown curls of hair tied back into a ponytail that descends down the nape of his neck.

Seth has propped his bare feet up on a fold-out chair of the auditorium opposite him, sandals neatly paired down and to his left on the floor. Pressed against his knees is a mobile writer's desk with paperwork upon it, not illuminated enough by the lighting to be actually readable to mortal eyes, but Seth doesn't seem to mind at all. An antique-looking black fountain pen that glistens with pearl trim in the stray beam of light twirls between his fingers absently as he looks over the documents splayed out before him. A small black messenger's bag diagonally crosses his body from right shoulder to left hip on a strap, seeming at least part-way full of some amorphous mass of objects.

Seth is humming to himself, this evening, humming along with some small speakers built into the writing desk that are playing classical music that predominately features pianos. An ear for classical musical will identify the tune as Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre.

Saint-Saen's Danse Macabre: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyknBTm_YyM

The sound of the door at the top of the stairs opening and closing is Seth's first clue that he is about to no longer be alone. Footfalls on the metal spiral staircase are the next clue - along with a soft silvery glow that resolves into the shape of a woman with her own faint luminescence - the light surrounds her, rather than being from some kind of portable torch or lantern.

Mingzhu is dressed in business-casual; a pair of black pants and a camisole of the same colour, with a purple suit jacket atop. This sets off her dove-grey skin - a hue that definitely doesn't occur amongst humans - and her solidly white eyes. She's clearly no vampire as there is no Beast to sense, nor does she have the old-blood scent of a ghoul. And yet here she is, in the Elysium.

Reaching the ground, she pauses to look around, her attention drawn first by the music, then the sight of Seth relaxing with his paperwork. And so, she begins to head over his way.

Given how quiet the Elysium is, Seth's been relaxing like he has the run of the place: once it's apparent that he's no longer along, though, he straightens up a bit. His bare feet flex slightly as he rights himself out of the half-reclined lougning posture that he had been, smoothly bringing himself up to an upright stand in one movement. The music continues playing from the writer's desk, though dialed down just a bit to a more comfortable background noise than the dominating croon of violins and brass that it had been, moments prior.

"Good evening," the casually dressed Mekhet greets Mingzhu with an easy half-smile hanging from one corner of his mouth as she approaches in his direction. The fountain pen in his hands is twirled among his fingers in an idle gesture, lazily passing among them in a practiced manner so thoroughly honed that it has become unconscious. "The name's Seth." Introductions formally out of the way, the vampire returns to his seat, one leg stretching out to the opposite chair to resume his lounge. His pale hands reach out to grasp the writer's desk again. "I'd almost forgotten this was a gathering place... such nice acoustics, and so nice and still."

"Good evening," Mingzhu greets in kind, her smile polite. Without waiting for an invitation, she snags a chair from around one of the tables and turns it, so she can sit facing Seth and his desk. "Baak Mingzhu, Changeling ambassador." She doesn't give her full title - it really isn't necessary in informal company, and if Seth has been keeping up with the official postings, he'll know the rest.

"It's a beautiful place. Sometimes I spend my evenings studying the artwork and architecture if there are no Kindred visiting. I hadn't thought to try the acoustics, though I imagine my taste in music might not be for some of the more venerable members of this praxis." There's a thread of humour in her voice there as she settles in that chair. "So what role do you play in this game, Seth? What clan and covenant do you claim?"

There is a sudden kindling of interest in Seth's green eyes as Mingzhu mentions her title, and he slides the black fountain pen behind one of his ears as the interaction turns towards conversation. The man leans his elbows against the writing desk in front of him as he sits up, measuring his response before speaking out. His accent has mostly adapted to the local New Orleans drawl, aided perhaps by an inherent lilt of French in his accent already, but there are some traces of more exotic emphasis on some of his words... not entirely stamped out.

"Madam Mingzhu, enchantee." Seth's French is comfortably fluent, maybe even native, as he nods his head to accompany the greeting. A long strand of brown hair gets loose and curls across his face, though he doesn't correct it. "Mekhet and the Carthians. I am of the Dark Gift by blood and the Movement by choice, anyway. Not much of a costume, but it's mine." Mingzhu's unusual skin tone and the composition of her appearance don't seem to phase Seth much, perhaps speaking to experience... or simply deep ennui about topical matters. Nonetheless, he is intrigued, and leans forward from his recline into a more direct posture facing the Changeling.

"I've just set up another Elysium, myself.. the Regas Strabuloj, a boat. She's a Mississippi cruise ship, but when she's not chartered for a voyage, she's parked out near New Aurora. You're welcome to stop by and place your music, if you like," Seth offers with a flicker of amusement. "I'm just here," he gestures around the expansive auditorium with his left hand, "Because this is still where the business happens. It's peaceful... and I have a lot of paperwork to do."

"That is the second time I've heard about a new Elysium on a boat. Would it be the same boat as mentioned by Nikola Senjan?" Mingzhu enquires, tilting her head slightly. For her part, her accent is thoroughly New Yorker, undiluted by her time here in New Orleans. "He mentioned a casino, as well." This seems to amuse her somewhat, though it isn't clear why.

"Shall I leave you to your paperwork? I understand the demands of business, and I'd hate for you to miss out on some necessary permit or whatever because your peace was disturbed by excellent conversation." She makes no move to rise; indeed, crossing one leg over the other knee she settles back comfortably into her seat, that pupilless gaze fixed on the Kindred. "What, exactly, is a Mekhet? I have heard them described by a few words, I would be curious how you describe yourself."

"Mm, yeah, same one... Niko's a friend of mine. He's got run of the boat." Seth offers a briefly amused smile at the mention of the casino, not quite showing his fangs, but he doesn't comment on the topic. Instead he settles back into relaxation. "Merci," he says with an upraised palm of placation in Mingzhu's direction at the suggestion of leaving, "I could not bear the tragedy of losing something interesting to the mundane demands of bureaucracy. It is all too frequently repeated in the world already."

Seth has arranged his paperwork back into a folder that had been hiding underneath it, and slipped the folder back into his messenger bag. The writing desk is still playing something languid and haunting with strings, but not nearly as vibrantly as it had been. "What is a Mekhet...?" This gets a laugh out of the casually-attired Vampire, and he raises up his right hand to pinch the bridge of his nose atwixt forefinger and thumb as he considers. "Mmm. Someone who was fond of secrets and ghost stories got to be old and powerful, and the Blood got stuck that way... whispering and reclusive. Secrets die, you know. The world is a whole graveyard of ghost stories, and Mekhet are the mediums and necromancers that summon them up in seances and in dark rituals of binding, that can speak their language in the dead tongue of the river Lethe, the language called Forgetfulness." Seth smiles easily, his unassuming outfit and casual tone at odds with the gravitas and heavy ennui of the words that he's saying. "It kept reproducing shadows when it was passed down to its newest inheritors, along the centuries. "

"Secrets, hmm. They are a language written into the blood of the Mekhet, a dead tongue we call up by ancestral instinct when we need to sing to the things lurking out beyond the boundaries of the light." Seth's green eyes shift towards the nearby light fixture that partially illuminates his silhouette in an uneven chiaroscuro.

"Ah. I understand." And despite the long and mysterious explanation, it does sound like she means it when she says that, rather than it being a brush-off. She folds her hands into her lap, considering Seth a little more. "Amongst my people, I belong to the Winter Court, also known as the Court of Secrets." As she mentions winter, a gust of cold wind comes seemingly from nowhere, circling around the two and then disappearing again.

"It would be interesting to discuss the nature of such things with someone else who appreciates them," she then observes, smile returning to her lips. "A secret is like a fine wine. Some have more body, some age better than others, and all begin to lose their potency when the cork is popped. Of course, when that is done at the right time, the result is a good deal of satisfaction."

Listening quietly, the partially-shadowed man twists one of his brown curls around a finger before tucking it behind his ear. Then Seth nods to Mingzhu, slowly. "Yes, secrets and wine do have a fair deal in common. People like us tend to hoard them in our cellars and bring them out for the perfect moments, non? The only difference is that secrets make a far better currency than wine. More vital, aren't they? Pieces of detritus, scrapings of someone's soul, waiting to be given life with a breath. A coinage of souls." He spreads his hands to either side, palms up, as he speaks... before placing them against his knees.

"I had heard," Seth gives voice to a passing thought, "That the craftsmen among your people are of exceptional quality. If you know of any who wish to commission their crafts for weapons, armor, or curiosities for money or favors... I have a great deal of currency, and not many curiosities. I would like to correct that equilibrium."

Tilting her head slightly, Mingzhu then nods to the mention of secrets as currency. "Indeed. Something to be bartered - or not - at the right time. Or more deliciously, the wrong time," she remarks with a slight uptick of her lips, a faintly pleased smile.

"We do have some exceptional craftsmen, it is true," she then agrees with a slow nod. "I can certainly put out the word that one of the Kindred seeks such curiosities, and see who might respond. Is there any specific thing you might look for? We have people more skilled at creating swords than sceptres, and the reverse as well."

"Armor, I think, has the most widespread utility. Several sets of it, and not only for myself. A very profitable work order. It's a dangerous city out there, after all," Seth says with a brief glance upwards towards the ground level of the Lee Circle Library that they're sitting underneath. "I've just found myself freshly and unexpectedly appointed into the position of Hound, and I do not doubt I will need to baptize my appointment with blood, soon. So," The Mekhet lowers his green eyes back to Mingzhu with that languid smile, hiding hints of a feral undercurrent, that he's still wearing.

"Modern armor, doesn't need to be concealed. Knives, would be my second choice. I could order quite a few of them, if there were talent enough to supply a large number. For myself, if it's Christmas... a nice rifle, but gunsmithing is far more specialized and I don't have any realistic anticipation of that being so casually done. I'd be very willing to bid on those kinds of services, though, if it were. I can offer things besides money, it's negotiable." Seth raises one shoulder in a casual shrug.

There's a thoughtful nod from Mingzhu and she takes out her phone, making a brief note of something on it and then tucking it away again. "I think I know somebody who might be able to do that, though whether they will be more effective against threats from _this_ world, I do not know. I shall have to ask. Are you willing for me to give them your details, or would you prefer to conduct this through me as a middle-man?" she then enquires, tugging a bottle of water from her purse and taking a sip, then tucking it away again.

Seth reaches into a pocket of his dark jeans and pulls out a business card. Black background, upraised silver font that has vague hints of a cursive styling but is primarily printed. It reads only: 'Seth, Keeper and Hound' and then three phone numbers, which are labeled 'Local, National, International'. Other than these, the card is a light-eating shade of black. "Please, do put them in touch with me. Further," Seth fishes a scrap of paper out from his satchel, and writes a few numbers on it. "I'll cut through the bullshit. This is my best offer, assuming the items are of a grade higher than I can obtain merely by ordering through my black market connections. If they are worth the title of 'enchanted,' I am willing to pay this amount, though we may change the manner of payment to favors or secrets if that is preferable."

Seth considers for a moment, before saying, "I am willing to go higher, but it will require spicing the pot beyond simply what I am asking for."

Taking the card, Mingzhu tucks it into her purse with a nod. "Indeed. I will keep that in mind when speaking with our craftspeople," she affirms quietly. "And of course if they cannot make what you are looking for, I will let you know promptly. Some are specialised in weaponry and armour suited to fighting our enemies, which would be less useful to you."

She considers for a moment, then nods again. "You are outfitting your.. pack? Coven? I don't know what the name is for a group of allied Kindred."

"I am interested in both utility and lethality," Seth nods agreement with Mingzhu's assessment as he leans back in his chair. "I would prefer lethality, or protection in the case of armor, but utility uses are also something I am willing to consider. I look forward to sitting down with your people and working out the details, madam." He hooks an arm over the back of the chair, offering up a smile.

"My coterie, yes. Though not only them, also our friends and allies. If this goes well, there's potentially more money where this came from. I can afford it. After all," he waves idly in the direction of the Elysium entrance, casually demonstrative, like an illusionist performing a card trick, "I've just launched a floating casino and pleasure cruise venture. Money flow won't be an issue, even not factoring in my... other means."

The 'madam' comment gets a faint smile from the Changeling. "Please. Just 'Mingzhu' is fine. Or if you seek formality, I suppose 'Primogen' would be the form of address, but it's really not required," she murmurs. "Money is good to have, but I suspect that our craftspeople will look for other things alongside cold, hard cash. But I will enquire." She nods, sitting back slightly and seeming to relax out of business-mode.

"Have you any questions about the Lost, Seth? Or any information about the Kindred you feel the pressing need to volunteer?" That latter is asked with a smile - given they're both in the business of secrets, it's highly unlikely he'll be wanting to volunteer *anything*.

"Mmm, civility is all that seperates us from the monsters, after all," The lounging Mekhet offers up by way of agreement with a nod, the smile on his lips briefly turning sardonic. The work desk that he'd been leaning on previously is folded in half by hidden hinges, and then also slipped into the messenger bag that Seth is wearing at his side. "Very well, Mingzhu. I do have other things, such as access, but money is a remarkable magic all on its own." He contemplates the query posed to him about the Lost.

"However, no meaningful questions, I think. At least not yet. Half the trick to asking questions, after all, is already knowing enough to eliminate the useless ones before you even ask. I'll spare you my lack of familiarity, for the moment." Seth glances around the large, hushed auditorium, gradually rising up to his feet from the chair in a languid stretch with feline notes. "Once I'm probably acclimated, perhaps I'll have more questions. I must say, New Orleans having all manner of the hidden peoples rubbing elbows like this... it's certainly somewhat unique." Seth's dark green eyes blink once. "Actually. I do have a question. What do your people seek, here in the city? What's the point? Vampires are out for the red stuff, but the Lost...?"

"Seek what others seek, so you can provide it to them at a reasonable price? Or perhaps even use that desire against them?" Mingzhu challenges lightly on the topic of what her people look for. "Your fellow boat-owner, Nikola, can give you the basics on what we are. He was quite thorough in his questions to me. But as for what we want? The most basic desire is safety. We are all of us refugees, escapees, survivors of things that would break most. Some of us are indeed broken. But security, safety, is what we desire most."

She gives that out freely - openly, even. Surely it can't be that simple, or maybe she's just really _bad_ with secrets. Or maybe it isn't a secret at all, and she's stating plainly what should be known by all. "Fortunately, we are more than capable of making that happen for ourselves and our brethren."

"Oh, was he? It'd be rude to ask you twice then," Seth responds with raised eyebrows and half a grin at the initial revelation, nodding slowly. "Mmm. Price. That's the great magic that moves the soul, in it?" The half a grin is accompanied by a flicker of mischievous intent in Seth's eyes as he begins pacing lightly across the smooth flooring of the Elysium. "Instinctively, we all measure our own prices for things." He waves a hand lightly, posing a casual question.

"What is money? Metal? Ink on paper? Numbers on a screen? And yet it's enough, indeed it's all that is required, to kindle the souls of most people to act as if their lives depended on it." He rolls his shoulders in a shrug. "We spend a lot of time looking for complicated ways to subvert the mortal world, our unending kindred, don't we? And yet they've already done it to themselves, every waking hour of their lives. No further effort required. Why should I try to carve ice from the mountaintops and drag it down the slope when I can simply wait by the lake, downriver, when spring melts the snows?" Seth's fangs show in the accompanying grin. "I am, you see, incorrigibly lazy. I cannot be bothered to do complicated things like manipulate others' desires, the difficult way, if an easier option is available. We don't even need to trade in favors or secrets, really. We just need to find where they accumulate and wait, and they'll find us on their own, sure as spring follows the snow."

"Money is an agreement. An agreed baseline, so that we don't need to work out how many sacks of your grain my sheep is worth. Unless we're playing Catan, of course," Mingzhu replies thoughtfully, remaining seated but tracking Seth as he moves around the floor. "Though in fairness, if you wait at the lake until the snow melt arrives, you've probably missed your chance for much in the way of ice," she adds, sounding amused.

Taking another sip from her bottle of water, she considers the man in front of her. "What, if I might ask, is your opinion of ghouls?"

"Mmm, sure. Calling it an agreement is more palatable than calling it the real estate of the soul." Saying so agreeably, Seth hops up onto the lip of the raised stage, choosing that as his new seat. Something about the vast quiet of their surroundings seems to animate him, even if it is just subtle gestures. Currently his foot is tapping against the ground to an unheard rhythm. "Ghouls? Mmm. I've always found slavery to be in poor taste, of all the sins that mankind is capable of. Ghouls are a form of slavery, but if it's entered into willingly..." Seth shrugs, mouth briefly compressing in distaste, like examining an unappealing meal.

"I don't see why not. People will do a great deal for power, youth, and position. Drinking dead blood is hardly the worst thing a person has ever done to achieve so-called 'greatness.' As for myself, I've used a few of them over my unlife, if only to ensure loyalty in my subordinates. But I use them sparingly and rarely more than one at a time. Some daylight affairs are too important to be left to chance. Ghouls, after all, represent a kind of certainty: you know they will not betray you during the day-sleep. I was too weak to afford the luxury of choosing not to employ ghouls, in my... youth. Now that I'm older, more powerful... wealthier, I can afford not to compel absolute loyalty from my servants for the sake of my own survival. A precarious, ethereal thing, survival. One moment it seems solid, corporeal, and the next.." His right hand waves like scattering dust. "Gone."

Listening to the answer given, the Changeling considers, and seems briefly pleased by his response. "Thank you," Mingzhu responds quietly, nodding once. "I am still learning a lot about your people. That is one of the aspects I find most difficult to deal with, having been a slave myself." She offers this without batting an eyelid. "But, some things are to be endured for the sake of keeping the channels of communication open."

She likewise rises from her seat, tucking her purse and under one arm and approaching the stage, though her gaze is on the Triptych artwork rather than directly on Seth. "Gone, indeed."

"I make no amends for the sins of my bretheren in the Blood," Seth shakes his head and leans back onto his left hand, braced against the stage. "There's all sorts among us. Myself included. I can say that for my part, I always offer the choice first, to my Ghouls. Most of those who are offered the chance at power beyond the mortal world leap at the opportunity. Not all," his head tilts to the side thoughtfully, "but most." An unnecessary exhale punctuates this statement, Seth's chest rising and falling with the memory of breath.

"It is the cruel truth of power, that many of our kind learn from their earliest nights." Seth considers his next words thoughtfully, a certain nostalgia entering his expression and roughening his voice with the slightest hint of an emotional rasp. "People will do anything for it. Including to kill you. So each of us, wrestling with the Beast within us and the threatening faces without, must make a choice. Do we rely upon the gifts of our Blood to survive, or do we simply hope the world will be kind enough to let us be, without the assurances of the dark strengths that we possess? Do we simply hire a mortal housekeeper, or do we have a ghouled lieutenant to take care of our affairs during the daysleep? Can we risk, as the days turn into decades, that a single moment of mortal foolishness or greed will not slay us? Or do we wish to be absolutely certain, by compelling that loyalty?"

Seth shakes his head, raking his free hand through his loose strands of brown hair. "It's ugly, like so many things about being dead. Some Ghouls have a bad lot. Some have it pretty good, better than when they were only mortal. It's a mixed bag, really, much like mortals themselves."

Tilting her head slightly, Mingzhu brings those all-white eyes to bear on the Mekhet. She considers his response, the subtleties within it as well as the overall statement, seeming to place a great deal of thought or consideration on his choice of words when conveying that sentiment.

"I like you," she decides, without preamble or explanation, the statement simple and self-contained. "And as such, I would offer a gift, if you are willing to accept it." She doesn't explain what, either - that is for him to ask, if indeed he does ask. She returns to her seat, settling with one leg crossing the other knee, hands folded in her lap.

"A gift?" Seth considers this for a moment, shortly, before straightening himself up. The absent-minded demeanor that possessed him while he was talking... reminiscing, really, has left him entirely as he has turned his attention to the interaction at hand. "I would be honored, Mingzhu. Very well, I will accept it." Ill-advised? Perhaps. But Seth doesn't shy away from the moment, nor does he occupy himself in calculating the intricacies of what the Fae ambassador means or the possible knives hidden in the offer. There's only that faint twist of his lips, and the fact that the ennui in his eyes has been replaced by a piercing, hungry sort of curiosity.

There is a thoughtful nod from Mingzhu, the businesswoman seeming pleased at his ready acceptance. "I must ask two things of you, in order to give the gift of good fortune," she murmurs quietly. "Firstly, to know what event or activity you wish for it to apply to - and it must be a specific goal, not a general one." Easy enough, sure.

"The second, I must prick your fingertip to draw a drop of blood to the surface. You may keep both the blood and the pin used to pierce your skin - it is the act of doing it that allows me to provide this blessing; I have no desire to own any part of you." She speaks matter-of-factly, as if any bargain with a fae-changed creature might contain such requirements.

There is a stretch of silence as Seth considers these statements contemplatively, becoming very still. He even forgets to breathe, or at least to maintain the reflex of breath. His heart slows, his skin pales, and he becomes very still as he considers the topic at hand... very thoroughly. He has almost entirely withdrawn in upon himself. An otherworldly silence falls over him like a pallor, visibly chilling the warmth of his skin and his appearance of mortality.

At length, Seth inhales and pulls air in his lungs to form words.

"Very well," he says, a slow smile spreading across Seth's lips as his heart begins beating again and color returns to his face and pallid hands. "I desire to obtain an object empowered to help me commune with the.." and here he says something fluidly in a strange, dead language, that an enterprising scholar would recognize as Egyptian, ancient Egyptian (although the pronunciation and accent are very unlike most of the accepted academic interpretations) before clarifying in English, "with the Darkness."

Having said this, Seth stretches up to his feet, strolling towards Mingzhu and extending the index finger of his right hand solemnly and without hesitation.

<spend> Mingzhu spends 1 point of her Willpower pool, for Spinning Wheel. .oO( Mingzhu rolls 9 Dice )Oo...............................................o.

 Roll: Intelligence + Occult + Wyrd + 3 - 2
 Result: Exceptional Success! (5) -- (2 9 8 1 10 10 8 3 7 7 7)

.o......................................oO( exceptional success! (public) )Oo.

Taking the offered hand, Mingzhu draws a safety pin from her purse, undoing the clasp. She begins to whisper softly, the language foreign - Mandarin Chinese, should Seth recognise it - drawing her fingertips from Seth's wrist along the centre of his palm, to the tip of his middle finger. Then she jabs the needle down, just deep enough to encourage a welling of blood to the surface, then drops the pin into his open palm without touching the blood.

Glancing up to meet his gaze briefly, she murmurs in English, "Under the moon's blessing, this man seeks an object with the power to help him commune with the darkness." She repeats it twice more, then smiles slowly. A rush of cold wind circles around the pair of them, enough to ruffle hair for a moment before vanishing to wherever it came from. "So it is said, so it shall be."

Seth looks up and aside at the swirl of chilling wind thoughtfully, and with mounting interest: this definitely piques his curiosity. The finger prick is just pain: he instinctively responds to it, but only for a moment, smoothing out the habit of his muscles back into inaction once more. Though he is unfamiliar with this brand of magic, Seth can definitely feel the mystical potency that descends upon them and sanctifies the moment that they are both standing in.

Once the wind has departed and the chamber is quiet again, Seth raises his dark green eyes to meet Mingzhu's gaze. "Thank you," he says with a moment of direct sincerity at odds with his meandering responses before. "It's a gift, so I won't say I owe you one, but my door is open and you are welcome in any place that is mine." His gradual smile is without fangs this time, "And there's a few of those."

The Telluric inclines her head slightly, accepting that open door and offer of hospitality. "Thank you," she replies quietly. "This blessing will last until the next waxing gibbous moon - slightly under a month, or until you find this item, whichever comes soonest. I would suggest you put an effort into this venture during that time. Also, should you decide that you desire the blessing to end prematurely, you must prick your own finger until a drop of blood forms and say 'Gracious moon, avert your gaze'."

Her work done, Mingzhu rises to her feet, tucking her purse under one arm. "It has been a pleasure speaking with you, Seth. I hope to do it again soon," she adds, before turning to take her leave.

"May the road run smoothly ahead of you and the wind be at your back," Seth offers by way of goodbye to Mingzhu as she turns to depart, watching her silhouette contemplatively. He's still and quiet, thinking, long after the sound of her footsteps has faded away into silence again.