"And there's your uniform," Victoria handed Esther a short and frilly dress and an equally frilly apron.
As they changed together, Esther fidgeted uncomfortably in front of the mirror. "Don't you think the dress is too short?" she tugged on the hem in a futile effort to pull it lower.
Esther had always preferred heavier, more sturdy overalls for her outside explorations. Being at the top of the world, Weinbar wasn't exactly warm, although she had to admit Nimby Garden wasn't exactly balmy either. Furthermore, none of her dresses or skirts meant for formal occasions went above her knee. The tight dress and her exposed legs felt more than a little airy.
"Oh, but that's all part of the charm," Victoria practically oozed. She was more hyper than Esther had seen before.
"I'll be too embarrassed to go out like this," Esther complained, still patting down the frills on the skirt.
Victoria rubbed Esther's shoulders reassuringly, "you'll be fine. Come on, I'll show you the ropes. "
Esther allowed herself to be lead out of the changing room, wondering if she shouldn't have tried to find another job herself.
"Today, we have Patrica who will be joining us on the floor," Victoria gestured at a woman just as busty as herself. "We call her Patty. "
As Esther exchanged bows, she couldn't help her eyes being drawn to the pair of white feathery wings jutting out of her back. They were half an arms length and definitely a moveable part of her body judging from how they moved and kept in balance with the rest of her body.
Drawn by Esther's gaze, Patty flapped the wings indicatively, causing her black hair to billow in the slight wind. "Yeah, Arael here," Patty said, wings fluttering, "And no, I can't fly with these. They say some of our pure blood ancestors could though. "
From her studies on Iris, Esther already knew that. The Angel line was one of the first and oldest Arael lines, and consequently, one of the most diluted. Unlike other Araels, their family marker of wings only manifested in those with stronger active Arael blood, increasing in size with blood purity to wings nearly fifteen meters across in the original adults. Nowadays though, it was rare to see anyone with wings even a meter long and most were shorter than Patty's at half an arm's length. For all intents and purposes, the Angel line was absorbed into the larger human population.
Esther just nodded politely, no point giving away too much about herself and what she knew.
"This is Aaron," Victoria directed her at a tall lanky man lounging against the wall. Going by his plain overalls and white apron, Esther guessed he was the cook. He held out a hand and Esther was about to take it when she noticed that his fingernails were all silvery. In fact, she could almost see herself reflected in them.
Aware she was staring, Esther gingerly accepted his handshake. "I'm from the Eler line," he answered her unasked question. Silver nails weren't a sure indicator as one could get silver nail polish if one really wanted to. "And I am the cook. It helps not needing a light for the stove. "
Esther nodded mutely, wondering wildly if she might be able to use his nails as a focus.
"And this," Victoria gestured at the last man, polishing a glass behind the counter outside the break area. "He's Peter. He tends the bar at night and helps prepare non-cooked food. "
Esther looked him up and down. Blonde hair, blue eyes and that smart suit, all were completely normal. He grinned and waved the glass in their direction, "I'm human, although I think I may have almost one in a hundred Angel blood. But then who doesn't?" he shrugged vaguely.
"Also, I'm the manager and I run this place, supposedly," Peter shared a grin with Victoria, "I seem to be doing less of that every month. "
Esther looked back at Victoria after the introductions. Come to think of it, Victoria did have those red rings in her eyes...
"Yep," Victoria nodded, as if reading her mind, "I'm an Arael too, Napish line. You Iris people stole our name. "
They all shared a laugh at the poor joke. Certainly, the red eyes would fit the name of Iris far better than pointed ears but Napish was almost as old as the Angels. Iris was named after Napish.
Still, that was three Araels out of four people here, not counting Esther herself. Less than one in twenty people on the street were Araels, in the sense of being magic amplified, but not even the Iris island itself had this many pointed ears among the humans.
"That's alot of Araels here," Esther pointed out, "Are you favouring us?"
Victoria winked mischievously, "I have my own little secrets too. "
"Not many people will take us," Aaron said, casual leaning stance at odds with the tension in his words, "apart from Enforcers or the magical device makers. Not when there's just as many humans and well, you know what happens with TA episodes. "
"But that only happens when we're under extreme stress," Esther half-protested.
"And we all know that because we're all Araels," Aaron spat bitterly, "most people think we're just dangerous maniacs on a hair trigger. Surely you must have met all too many of this kind of human. "
Esther shook her head mutely, feeling a little shocked. She had known about Arael discrimination but only in a distant bookish sort of way. Almost everyone she met on Weinbar recognized her name and most of her time on Iris had been spent in connection with the all-Arael Iris family. She supposed she hadn't actually met any common people before, until Loco, and had consigned the matter of anti-Arael humans to a sort of fairyland where they theoretically lived.
"My, half-blood Iris must live very different lives," Patty winked at her. Did she sound a little jealous? Esther looked at Victoria, who shook her head. All right, better not to explain things to them.
"Sorry," Esther mumbled, "it's just my first time this far outside Iris. "
"Well," Peter cut through the sinking atmosphere, "it's not like you can't live. Not everyone is like that," he grinned at Esther, "We're here and we help each other out. Now get to work. "
Most of her duties were in greeting customers, taking orders and serving and cleaning. Victoria on the other hand spent most of her time talking to customers and serving. Luckily, Victoria had arranged their shifts to the same times so Esther's mistakes were quickly made up for.
Surprisingly, most of the customers were quite forgiving of her rookie errors. She suspected the dress had something to do with that as most of the customers were male and surprisingly rich in comparison to the tavern itself. Judging from their clothing and snatches of overheard conversations, she guessed that must be how Victoria got her information.
They seemed to take her pointed ears in stride, despite Iris family members being rare this far away, especially one whose Arael blood was as strong as her own. One couple even asked if she could move them, a marker of strong Iris lineage. Esther was Iris enough to do that.
During their lunch break after the midday rush was over, an exhausted Esther nibbled at her sandwiches that she made for practice. She would never have thought that making sandwiches involved skill but Victoria's persistently stuck together until the last bite and Esther's own still left her picking pieces off her plate.
"So," Victoria asked, "how do you like being a waitress?"
"It wasn't as bad as I thought," Esther looked down at the dress with the apron she was supposed to wear to protect it when not serving on the floor. "I've mostly gotten used to the dress now. "
Victoria took a satisfied sip from her drink, "Well, you improved very quickly. Keep that up and I can certainly take you on permanently. "
Esther nodded her thanks, glad for the calming quiet after the bustle. Hmm, that was strange in itself. "You know, I just noticed that you're not as..." she stopped herself and tried to find a nicer word.
"Crazy?" Victoria grinned back, "Surely you can tell that's just an act. The customers like cheerful waitresses. "
"That's more than just cheerful," Esther smiled back.
"True, but it works," indeed, Victoria's crazy and occasionally flirty antics seemed to fit into the general atmosphere of the tavern. It only stood out jarringly when she was next to Loco.
Esther decided to ask. "So why do you act like that with Loco? He doesn't even come here. "
"Loco and I go back quite far. We come from the same orphanage, a TianSong charity here in Nimby Garden, and we were essentially the only two children there of the same age. Loco had a gift for magical engineering but I wasn't even strong in magic. Despite how we act, we know each other very well. "
The pause dragged on. Esther eventually gave up and pointed out the obvious, "It doesn't answer the question. "
"Haha, true," Victoria gave a weak laugh and sighed, "It's just something I do to him, we don't want to... get too close. "
Oops, that sounded like Esther just stumbled over something sensitive. She was about to apologize when Victoria visibly brightened up, the cheerful mask dropping into place with practiced ease.
"Besides, it's so fun to tease him!" That was creepy. Esther shuddered at the unnaturally bright voice, she couldn't even hear any trace of the solemness. "Come on! Finish up and put on a smile! Our shifts start in twenty minutes.