Over the next week the village started to become livelier. Everyone was preparing for the O Festival which honored the memory of the previous captain of the guard, who had been renowned as a famous war hero and had died along with his wife 20 years ago due to the foul workings of one of his malignant cohorts, and to add insult to injury it was only two weeks after he and the woman he loved had been married. The festival took place over that time period, starting with a week-long jubilant festival with food; games; and dances and the last week having silent ceremonies as well as plays and ballroom dances to honor the name of the hero and his beloved, as well as denounce the evils that had brought about his end.
During that time, Lan hadn’t improved in the slightest. Everything he did was either sluggish or done mechanically. He had stopped cooking, so Byakko hunted and cooked his own food, which often resulted in the town having to fumigate the area after each of his meals to clear out the resulting noxious fumes. Lan had also stopped his usual studies, and as a result his mind began to grow duller. Lan simply stayed in his room for most of the day, lying in bed with a vacant expression on his face only leaving to get a quick nibble or use the restroom.
He simply didn’t know how to feel right now. He had tried his hardest to become friends with James, so he felt powerful feelings of betrayal as well as anger towards him even after Byakko told him the details of the incident. He was also angry at Alayna for giving away her kiss like that and as a result, as he saw it, her love. He knew it was her own choice and that he didn’t have the right to meddle in such manners, but he had loved her and still continued to now. He just couldn’t get that scene out of his head, and each time it resurfaced his soul shook with anger even as he tried to forgive and understand. Chaos and order, jealousy and forgiveness, hatred and love. All these and more opposing forces swirled throughout his insides during this time, slowly breaking him to pieces.
Alayna and James had come to visit Lan during this time period, worried for his well-being. However, they were always turned away at the door by Byakko, who believed their presence wouldn’t be good for the boy at the time.
During this time, Ignis had stayed by Lan’s side, only leaving the room to get food, water, or defecate. The little wolf tried his best to cheer Lan up, licking him, placing his muzzle under the sheets to touch Lan, as well as many other kind gestures. Lan often acknowledged these gestures by patting Ignis on the head here and there, but he mostly went unchanged.
Byakko, although he had never set an exact date that they would leave the town, had also extended their stay to give Lan time to pick himself up. But true to his word, after the sixth day Byakko had had enough and gave Lan that promised kick in the pants (although it was actually tipping Lan out of the bed and kicking the boy out the window). But this only managed to get a minor grunt out of Lan, who then continued to stew in his swirling emotions only this time he did so in a mud puddle instead of a bed. Byakko had even given up on training during that time period due to the boy’s lack of enthusiasm. Even the fear for survival, which was Byakko’s most used tool during the training to draw out more of the boy’s…enthusiasm. The training Lan did participate in he did without spirit, performing each exercise almost mechanically. Byakko believed that training with mentality like that would end up hurting the recipient’s skills more than helping.
“You can’t get any real results out of someone who does things with no spirit.” He had said. “I should have snapped him out of this funk the night he came home crying. That way the mood wouldn’t have had time to take hold of him like this. “
Today was the first day of the festival, and Byakko was determined to use it to bring Lan’s spirits up. Once evening began to approach and the stalls for food and games started to open Byakko went to go get Lan. Lan was rather unresponsive when Byakko had told the boy to get ready, so Byakko had pulled him out of bed, stripped off the boy’s dirty clothes, bathed him (by shoving the boy into a vat of hot water and swishing him around a few times), dried him, and put the boy into a festival kimono. Ignis also was spruced up for the festival. The little wolf had donned a warrior’s body paint and had combed his fur on a carved tree trunk. After donning a kimono himself, Byakko hoisted Lan onto his right shoulder and walked out the front door.
He headed for the heart of the celebration, the town square, which was lined with many stalls that provided food, games, and other sources of entertainment.
“Mmmmmm.” said Byakko, sniffing the air “You smell that boy, it’s the delicious odor of meat! Roasted on sticks. Let’s go get some!”
Lan grunted in acknowledgement. Byakko then walked from stand to stand purchasing whatever delicacies were on display, mostly with Lan’s stockpiled money from the guard work. The boy never spent it after all, and if it was just going to sit there, Byakko decided that he should use it to cheer his boy up. Each time they came to a food stand, Byakko ordered 3 orders of the dish on display. Two of which were immediately devoured by him, and the third was shoved into Lan’s mouth. Lan, however, didn’t have the enthusiasm to chew these dishes and just let them stay in his mouth. As a result he soon found his mouth stuffed to bursting point with all manner of festival foods, many of which still had their sticks in them.
“This isn’t working” thought Byakko, shoving two boxes of takoyaki down his throat and one box into Lan’s overstretched maw. “It looks like we’ll need the big shock after all.”
Using his heightened sense of smell, Byakko picked up on the trail of the two people that could possibly shock Lan out of his funk at present time.
He honed in on the scent and quickly followed the sent through the crowd, many of the people laughing once they saw Lan’s stuffed mouth which was now bursting with various foodstuffs. After a little bit, Byakko spotted the forms of 6 people in the crowd.
“Cassio, Rodrick!” he yelled, “I see you two are out with your families today. And how are you two, Alayna and James.”
The six people turned around to look at Byakko, but before they completely turned around there was a large cracking noise in Lan’s direction. Byakko looked up to his right and saw that Lan had forcefully bit down on and was quickly chewing up everything in his mouth, which included wood and plastic, so as not to look foolish. However, with his cheeks resembling those of a well-fed chipmunk, he still rather did.
“Ah Byakko, it’s good to see you.” Said Cassio, who was wearing a green t-shirt and a pair of baggy black shorts. “I see you have donned the festival clothing of your homeland. Ah! and I see Lan has cheered up! How are you feeling my young friend?”
Lan grunted and then swallowed the mass of protein, carbohydrates, and packaging material in his mouth.
“Great” said Cassio, who approached along with the other five.
His wife Bianca was with him, who was a slender, darker-skinned, woman with long curly hair. She was also wearing a t-shirt, as well as a pair of tan shorts. Alayna was wearing a light green and blue party dress and was holding a stick of cotton candy in her left hand and her mother’s hand in her other.
“Hello Lan.” Said Bianca, gently “My daughter has told me much about you.”
“Mmmm” said Lan, staring at the ground.
“Oh come on boy” said Byakko, slightly miffed “greet her.”
Byakko wrenched Lan off of his shoulder and placed the boy on the ground.
Lan was staring down at the his bare feet down below, and noticed as pair of small delicate feet wearing brown sandals entered his vision.
“Hey Lan” said Alayna quietly, bending forward and turning her head so she could see into his downcast eyes. “You feeling okay?”
The Lan’s heart began to beat faster again, his entire vision filled with the vision of the one he loved. But then the memory of that night 7 days ago surfaced, and he felt tears begin to form behind his eyes.
“Yeah” said Lan, turning his face away and quickly wiping away the tears that spilled forth in an attempt to hide them from Alayna. “I’m fine.”
“Hey” said James, placing his hand on Lan’s shoulder “the misunderstanding’s cleared up just so you know.”
Lan turned his head and looked at the other three standing nearby.
Rodrick was wearing a brown coat on top of a black turtle neck and a pair of tan pants. His wife was wearing a dark, earth brown dress. And James was wearing a black t-shirt and a pair of orange shorts.
“Alayna knows that you’re the one that saved her now” continued James.
“James” said Rodrick, exasperated “That’s not what he’s—“
“Anyway” interrupted Cassio, “now that Lan is up and about what say we stick together and have an enjoyable outing hmm?”
Everybody, with the exception of Lan, agreed to it fervently. Lan simply nodded his head slowly. The eight of them then began to march through the festival, playing games and eating food. Lan still wanted Alayna to be happy however, so even though he was feeling quite lugubrious he still put forth all the effort he could muster when playing the games, and as a result won numerous prizes, most of which he gave to Alayna, who was more than happy to receive them. In one of the games he showed that even though he was specialized in close quarters combat, his marksmanship was still far superior to James’s. The game was shooting cans, and the prize you obtained was based on the number of moving cans you could shoot down with the 10 bullets you had. James managed to shoot down eight cans and received a mid-high prize, a pair of wool gloves. Lan, however, shot down twenty in less than a quarter of the time, and how did the boy shoot down twenty cans with just 10 pieces of ammunition? Well, let’s just say the boy knew how to use ricochets quite well. This won him the grand prize, a giant white stuffed kitten, which he gave to an exuberant Alayna. Lan continued to show off his skill in many other games, often outshining James and even some of the adults.
“Is this kid really depressed?” grumbled Rodrick, as Lan flicked numerous goldfish out of the water and into a plastic bag with his 1st paper net while Rodrick had just torn his 5th. Cassio said nothing and merely grunted, as he was incredibly over encumbered by the numerous prizes that Lan had given to Alayna.
Showing up James in almost every single game, only losing to James in games of pure luck, and being on the receiving end of Alayna’s gratitude from all the prizes he had given her had slightly improved Lan’s mood. He had gone up from grunting in response, to giving his answers in short sentences. Byakko smiled as he viewed his grandson’s improved disposition. Everyone in the group, with the exception of Lan; Ignis; and Byakko, began to grow tired after a while, especially the over encumbered Cassio, and decided to take a break. They spread out a blanket on a patch of grass far from the festival crowd and all took a seat. Cassio collapsed onto the grass and dropped all the prizes, forming a pile nearly three feet high.
“We’ll go grab some grub.” said Rodrick, standing up alongside his wife, Cassio, and Bianca.
“And I’ll make my meal!” shouted Byakko, piling together wood to build a fire.
“No!” they all shouted.
“Grandpa” said Lan hurriedly, “let me handle the cooking part, just bring the ingredients and the giant cooking utensils from home!”
“Can do!” said Byakko grinning, and leapt out of sight. The parents quickly left as well, leaving Lan, Alayna, and James alone, Ignis was snoozing in the grass not too far away along with a couple of stray dogs that he had made friends with. Away from the happy lights, chattering crowds, and jovial atmosphere of the festival Lan felt his depression quickly returning.
“I need to use the bathroom.” Said James getting up. “be back soon.”
He then walked away. Now it was just Alayna, Lan, and the Ignis who had just went belly-up.
“You feeling better Lan?” asked Alayna gently.
“Hmm? Oh uh…yeah” said Lan, absentmindedly.
“Lan” said Alayna with a huff, “I know you’re depressed that I gave James the credit for saving me, but that was just a silly mistake, you don’t have to get so upset over it!”
“That’s not it” said Lan quietly.
“Then what is?” said Alayna, looking helpless. “You’ve been like this for a whole week! You haven’t come out to play, haven’t trained, and from what your grandfather said you haven’t even bathed! Lan I..I” Alayna paused for a moment, and then began to tremble. “I’m sorry” she said, a single tear trickling down the side of her face. “I know I hurt you somehow and…I’m sorry Lan.”
There were many things that Lan could take. He could take being punched in the stomach by a fist that could shatter boulders, he could take being lighted on fire by ignited methane (which usually came from the same source as the fist), and he could take being beaten to a bloody pulp for no apparent reason (once again from the same source). But he couldn’t take this. He couldn’t take seeing the girl he loved hurt.
Reaching his arms out, hesitating slightly, Lan pulled Alayna into an embrace.
“It’s not your fault.” said Lan gently, sighing and patting her on the back. “If anything its mine.”
After Alayna’s trembling stopped, Lan pulled back and patted her on the head.
“There is a reason I was so down Alayna, but…I can’t tell you just yet. It could end up making things pretty awkward.” When Alayna gave him a confused expression, Lan sighed. “What I’m saying is…”
Lan honestly didn’t know what he was saying. He was frustrated, downtrodden, and also slightly scared. What could he say to make her understand? What could he say to make all this pain stop? He struggled with himself for a few moments, pinned under Alayna’s expectant gaze. Then it came to him. The words that could explain it all to her, the words that could make the pain go away, the words that could possibly make the situation better for him than it was before.
He had tell her that he loved her. This was the only way. But as the thought solidified in his mind, he found his face growing hot. It would be by no means easy for him to do this. It’s never easy for anyone. He also feared how their badly their relationship would change if she refused him.
“What you’re saying is?” said Alayna, motioning for Lan to go on.
Lan took a deep breath, and then turned his head to look in the direction of the booths where the sounds of laughter were vibrating from. Hearing this, Lan was reminded of Alayna’s laughter, of the joy he felt whenever he saw her smile. If he told her now, it would very well make enjoying the festival much more difficult for her as well as make things awkward with those around them. Nodding, Lan made his decision.
“I’ll tell you on the last day of the festival.” He said, looking back down at her “Until then I think we should just try to enjoy ourselves, and don’t you worry, I’ll do my best to pick myself up in that time.”
“Okay” said Alayna, “It’s a promise then.”
“Yeah” said Lan.
“Pinky swear?” said Alayna, holding out her pinky finger.
Lan paused for a moment, and then smiled. “Yeah” he said, and curled his pinky around hers.
“Whooooooo!” came a loud voice. Lan and Alayna jumped in surprise and turned in the direction the voice had come from.
Byakko popped out of a large bush, a net full of fresh ingredients clutched in his right hand.
“That was wonderful you two!” he said, pretending to wipe his eyes “A five star kiddie love if I ever saw one.”
“Wha?” said Lan
“W-We’re not lovers!” shouted Alayna, which caused Lan’s shoulders to slump once again.
With a muffled thump, Cassio; Bianca; Rodrick; Rodrick’s wife; and James fell out of the bushes as well.
“Daddy” said Alayna, looking surprised and then stern. “How could you?”
“Not my fault.” Said Cassio getting up “this crazy old tiger knocked us out with some kind of rag soaked in some foul smelling liquid and dragged us into the bushes.”
“That wasn’t no rag!” shouted Byakko, who then lifted up his arm and took a deep inhalation of his armpit “Ahhhh! That there was the smell of success!”
Cassio’s face, as well as those all the others that were in the bushes, turned very green and they rushed back into the foliage where Lan and Alayna heard them release various retching sounds. A few minutes later they all returned, carrying the bags of food they had bought from the festival. Sniffing the air, Ignis awoke and ran to the nearest person who was holding food.
“Alright!” shouted Byakko “Let’s eat”.
The whole group sat down and began eating the snacks. Lan got started on cooking grandpa’s food and was mostly standing above a giant skillet for most of the meal, grilling a variety of meet and wild vegetable while he munched on whatever snack was handed to him. With the large number of tasty festival foods, Lan’s cooking satiating Byakko’s appetite, and the peace and joy that comes with eating and talking with friends, the whole group had a wonderful time.
After they had finished it was getting to be pretty late and Alayna was beginning to yawn. Saying goodbye to Lan and Byakko, the Moors scooped up their belongings (Bianca carrying the drowsy Alayna and the bags and Cassio picking up the massive pile of prizes) and quietly excused themselves. James’s family quickly followed suit.
“So you’re finally going to tell her huh?” said Byakko, picking his fangs with a chicken bone.
“Yeah.” said Lan quietly, staring in the direction the Moors had left.
“Good luck little man.” Said Byakko, lifting up his fist.
“Thanks” said Lan, bumping fists with Byakko.
The two of them then cleaned up the giant cooking utensils, picked up Ignis (whose stomach was visibly bulging), and quietly made their way home.
The next two weeks were enjoyable what with Lan’s better mood and the festival finally getting into full swing. Everyone was having a great time. They laughed, ate, danced, played, drank, and sang, enjoying everything that the festival had to offer them. Lan had also picked up his training a little bit once again.
During the many dances that took place, Lan only danced with Alayna, even while she and James danced with many other partners, and simply sat on the side of the dance area when he wasn’t dancing with her.
Despite what he had said to her, Lan was still feeling quite down and only pretended that his mood was improving whenever someone came nearby, the whole time it was at about the same level as end that of the night of the first day of festival when he had made his promise. Still, he managed to wholeheartedly throw himself into the festival, although instead of playing around the whole time he often found himself helping out with many of the stand-owners and event planners through his culinary ability and his advanced athletic skills. But his enthusiasm in helping out came with mixed results. Thinking Lan had already cheered up, due to his increased activity, Alayna started to pay less attention to Lan and spend more of the festival with James. So once again, Lan’s feelings of isolation began to grow even as he was showered with gratitude from the many people he helped.
At the end of the 1st week of the festival, things began to taper down. They were now entering the second half of the O festival where the jovial festivities were replaced were replaced with more solemn ceremonies. People dressed mostly in black during these times and visited the memorials and graves of their dearly departed. The calm and sorrowful atmosphere that permeated the town resonated with Lan’s own downtrodden spirit and the calm yet sorrowful appearance that most of the villagers carried meant that Lan no longer had to hide his own depressed mood under a fake smile.
The “festivities” mostly took place at night during this time, during the day the villagers mostly went about their usual business. At night the all except the guards that were on wall duty would gather in the large theater in the center of the town where they would be served a high quality meal and watch a play that depicted one part of the captain’s life, after which a speaker would come out and talked about what they all must learn from the events that took place then. Each villager would then take a lit candle and leave the room one by one, walk through the town to the tomb of the captain, and place the candle at the foot of the stone structure. The area that had been set aside for the captain’s tomb was a large circular area surrounded by trees at the edge of the town. The tomb consisted of a stone gazebo, under which there were two stone coffins. Surrounding the gazebo were a few elaborately carved statues, each holding a glowing orb that lit up the area each night. Lan noticed that Cassio always had a nostalgic look on his face as he took part in this ceremony, and later discovered the Cassio had been the captain’s 2nd in command.
“What was his name?” asked Lan during the 1st night of the festival, after he had set down his candle. Instead of telling Lan, Cassio walked up to a moss covered portion of stone, wiped it off and pointed to the name written there.
Othello, guard captain of Little Root.
Lan had then nodded and quickly walked back home.
During the second half of the festivities Lan had seen Alayna with decreasing frequency, due to her family’s connection with Othello causing them to become quite reclusive during that time, and as a result his mental fortitude had begun to waver. He grew less and less confident over his approaching confession and the sorrowful feelings he had received from learning of the difficulties Othello had gone through increased the severity of the storm that was raging in his heart. The pattern continued until the end sixth and final part of the play that took place on the second to last day of the festival, a heart-breaking reinterpretation of Othello’s death.
Lan had enjoyed watching the plays about the man, he was an inspiration to the downtrodden yet at the same time so full of faults. The man had started out as a poor orphan, but had risen through the ranks thanks to his military accomplishments and at the end had retired to this small village to live a quiet life with his wife. If not for the scheme of one of his jealous subordinates, he would have had it. Lan felt a strange kinship with the man as he learned about him. He felt that he was very similar to him but at the same time very different. He felt the man’s joy at the heights of his career as well as the sorrows that tormented him towards the end of his life, but most of all Lan sympathized with the biting pain that Othello experienced when he believed that his love’s heart belonged to another.
He went to bed that night with a heavy heart, his mind filled only with thoughts about Othello’s tragic death, but the very next morning when he opened his eyes to the first rays of sunlight he suddenly remembered his promise to Alayna. He was completely unprepared, he hadn’t thought about how he was going to tell her, what kind of mood he wanted to set, or even where he wanted to tell her.
Gripped with panic, Lan ran downstairs to the house’s small library, sat down at the desk, pulled out a pen and many sheets of paper, and began to plan. A few hours later Byakko woke up and Lan had to go prepare breakfast, by then the boy had written 10 different scenarios he could possibly use. When he finished cooking, returned to the study, and reviewed the scenarios; he discovered how…unrealistic they all were. Sighing and throwing the crumpled balls of paper into the nearby refuse bin. He then sat there for a little while, bent over and clutching his face in his hands. After a few minutes, which was usually how long it took for Byakko to finish his food (statistically speaking, the shorter amount of time you spend eating a meal the more calories you ingest), Byakko popped in and found Lan’s depressed form. Byakko stared at him for a few moments, slowly walked over without Lan noticing, knelt down on Lan’s side, and let loose a slow and deep belch into the boy’s ear.
“Agh!” shouted Lan, jumping up and shuddering, a shiver running down his spine.
Byakko reached his hand into the refuse bin, Lan attempting to stop him but failing miserably, and read each scenario in turn. After he finished, he looked up, licked his lips, and smiled.
“You do remember there’s a dance tonight right?” he said
“Huh?” said Lan blankly.
“The formal dance thing later tonight that’s to celebrate that Othello fellow’s life.” Said Byakko “You could probably have a nice confession there.”
“Ah?” said Lan, suddenly remembering “…right.”
The two of them looked at each other for a few moments.
“Well, I guess I know what to plan for now.” Said Lan, reaching for a pen and a pad of paper.
“You know what you’re going to wear?” asked Byakko.
“I guess I’ll just wear the custom gi” said Lan, clicking the pen and beginning to write.
“You have much to learn boy” said Byakko, smiling and shaking his head “That’s just not going to cut it for what you’re going to do.”
“Well it’s not like I can wear anything else” said Lan, beginning to write “all I got besides the gi are t-shirts and shorts.”
“Well” said Byakko, reaching into his gi, “Not anymore.”
Byakko pulled out a brown package and handed it to Lan.
“Whuh?” said Lan, taken aback “…is that for me?”
“Yep” said Byakko, as Lan took it “Open it up.”
Lan ripped off the brown paper and shook the clothes out. It was a new, shining black tuxedo, complete with a dark blue tie and a pair of shining black leather shoes.
“I ordered that from a tailor a few weeks ago, provided him with the materials to make it too” said Byakko “It’s made from the thread of giant spiders, so it’s real strong and as for the shoes, I got those from tanning the hide of a black lion I killed a long time ago.”
“Wow” said Lan, turning it this way and that “Thanks grandpa but…where did you get the mon—“
“I paid the man in the leftover spider thread” replied Byakko “It’s pretty valuable material after all. To get it you have to catch a live giant spider, rip open its belly and grab its—“
“I get the picture grandpa” said Lan, chuckling “’sigh’ thanks grandpa, really…thanks.”
“Any time little man,” said Byakko, pointing at him with his hands in gun-like shapes. “Now you better get your lines ready. You don’t want to make a fool of yourself. You got to smooth. You got to be cool. You got to be—“
“Not like you normally are?” said Lan
“Yep!” said Byakko, “glad you understand. Well I’ll leave you to your business for now. Have fun brainstorming little man!” he then got up and walked to the door “for the lot of good it’ll do ya” said Byakko quietly.
“Huh?” said Lan, taking the seat, “What was that?”
“Oh, nothing” said Byakko “Have fun!”
As soon as he shut the door and was out of earshot the large man sighed.
“Writing a plan huh? The boy’s still got a lot to learn.” Byakko walked out of the house and then stared up into the afternoon sky. “These things have got to go naturally…well Iet’s see how things go for now, but just in case.” Byakko pulled a wrinkled notebook and opened it up. The top of the list read : To do List for Lan’s rearing.
Byakko reached inside his clothes, gathered up a number of insects and crushed them in his hand. He then dipped one of his claws into the goop and wrote: prepare Lan for dating, right under prepare package to give to Lan’s future wife. He then shut the notebook and went to check up on the preparations for the end of the festival.
Lan stood outside the mayor’s manor, which was being used as the location of the last festivities. He was feeling extremely nervous as he listened to the chatter and music that were leaking out of the door. Decked out in his new tuxedo and at the entrance to the area where one of the biggest events of his life would take place, he felt all his preparation of planning fading from his mind. What if he made a mistake? What if he did something stupid? And why the heck was he thinking about questions that only a character from an awkward romance novel would think about? These questions and more flew through his mind. He began breathe deeply in order to calm himself down, deep and slow in, deep and slow out. He began to shut out every thought in his mind, until the only thing left was resolution. He walked forward and slowly reached out for the door handle, but paused right before touching it.
“Oh for the love of— will you just get in already!”
Lan turned his head just in time to see a large heavy foot speeding towards his rear. Poor Lan never stood a chance. The impact sent him flying forward, bursting through the doors and over the head of many startled party goers. He came crashing down onto a startled group of musicians, sending instruments flying in all directions. The whole room stared as Lan groaned and slowly got back to his feet.
“Alright!” shouted a voice from the other end of the hall “The entire room turned their heads and watched as Byakko, wearing a tuxedo that looked one size two small for him, walked into the room. “Party!”
He then made a beeline for the food and drinks, the crowd parting as he ran through. Luckily, Lan had delivered a large amount of ingredients to the festival planners earlier so there wouldn’t be a problem with a lack of food, even with his grandfather eating.
Brushing himself off and helping the musicians get back in order; Lan looked around the room taking in the sights. It was a large rectangular banquet hall with doors in the middle of each wall, it had a towering ceiling supported by stone pillars and the whole room was lit by bright lanterns, shedding a golden light over everything. The floor was packed with people and was lined on the sides with the refreshment tables, except for the entrance door that he had flown through. In the center of the room was a large bronze statue of the Othello, his right hand extended to the right and his left hand holding a long spear. He was a largely built bald man and was wearing a long trench coat.
After he had finished helping the musicians Lan began to wander around the large hall to find Alayna. During this time many young girls approached Lan and asked to dance with him. Lan didn’t realize it thanks to his fixation on Alayna, but he was actually quite popular with many of the girls his age in town thanks to his strength, kind personality, and vast skill set. He politely refused their offers, without even thinking about why he was being approached so often. He eventually spotted Alayna eating with her family at a circular table. Lan took paused as he looked her, took a deep breath, and then walked over. She had her back to him as he approached her. Cassio and Bianca waived at him as he approached, their hands containing eating utensils.
“Hello Alayna” said Lan.
Alayna turned around to look at him. She was holding a knife in her left hand and a fork in the other, her cheeks were puffed up with food, and she had a speck of tomato sauce on the left side of her mouth. She smiled once she saw him and, with seemingly great effort, she swallowed her food and wiped her mouth, after which she got up and turned to face him. She was wearing a green dress with patterns of leaves and other aspects of nature, a pair of silvery gloves, a silver chain necklace, and a pair of earth brown high heels. She was brilliant, and Lan felt his heart lighten as he looked upon her.
“Lan” she said, beaming at him “glad you could make it!”
“Y-yeah” said Lan, blushing “wouldn’t miss it and—“
“So!” interrupted Alayna, “When are you going to tell me the reason you we’re feeling down?”
Lan paused for a moment, opened his mouth, closed it, and then smiled.
“I thought we agreed we’d leave that towards the end?” he said. “Come on, let’s enjoy the final party for now, I’ll tell afterwards.”
“Well…” said Alayna, a skeptical look on her face, “All right.”
She began to turn back towards her plate but Lan quickly stopped her by gently grabbing her shoulder.
“Alayna?” said Lan, noticing that the musicians had started playing again.
“Yes?” said Alayna, surprised by Lan’s uncharacteristic forwardness.
“May I have this dance” answered Lan, reaching out with his right hand.
Cassio and Bianca turned to each other and smiled at each other, as if they both understood what the other was thinking. “Ah to be young and in love.”
“You may” said Alayna, blushing “But…just hold on a little.”
Alayna turned back to her plate and shoved her desert, a piece of key lime pie, into her mouth. After downing it with tea and wiping her mouth with her napkin, she got up and turned to the smiling Lan.
“Let’s go!” she said, taking Lan’s outstretched hand. The two of them walked out to the dance floor, where many other pairs were gliding across the marble floor. Lan took Alayna’s right hand in his and, with great hesitation of course, placed his left hand on the side of her waist. Alayna, laughing slightly as she saw how nervous Lan was, gently took hold of Lan’s left shoulder.
“Have you ever danced before?” asked Alayna, who had learned how by watching and imitating her mother.
“No” admitted Lan, “but how hard could it be?”
And as the two of them began to move in time with the song, Lan showed that he could more than put his money where his mouth was. From watching the dancers as he had walked through the room, Lan had memorized the movement patterns and steps of the dance that was being used throughout the hall, and with the physical skills he had gained from the intensive training his grandpa had put him through he was able to execute them quite well, only instead of the graceful flowing movements of dancing his movements contained the sharpness and precision of martial arts. Luckily for Lan, the dance movements quickly became instinctive because after the initial pride he felt from showing off his dancing skills the reality that he was dancing with Alayna clicked and he slowly became more and more nervous, especially when he realized how close her smiling face was to his.
“Uh Lan?” said Alayna halfway through the first song “You feeling okay?”
By this time Lan’s face was as red as a turnip and his hands were producing torrents of sweat, his confident front had all but crumbled.
“Y…yeah” choked Lan, who was finding it increasingly difficult to breathe. “I-I’m fine.”
Alayna frowned slightly and cocked her head to one side as they glided across the floor.
“Sure doesn’t look like it” she said, noting Lan’s increasingly panicked expression.
They danced a little while longer and stopped as the song came to an end.
Lan stood there a moment after he had let go of her hands, still enraptured in the moment. Slowly the feeling that he should say something became evident. He looked down at Alayna’s face, desperately thinking of what to say, luckily for him, Alayna took care of that for him. As he looked down at her, she smiled warmly, gazed into his eyes, and embraced him, burying her head into his chest. This surprised Lan but as he felt her warmth seep into him, his surprise was replaced by peace and calm. Slowly he extended his arms and embraced her as well, and placed his head on hers. After a time that Lan felt was much too soon Alayna let go, smiled at him, then walked back to her family through the crowd. Lan stared after her for a few moments, smiling. A warm glow was spreading out to the rest of his body from his heart. He then turned around and headed towards a table in the back of the room that was stacked to the ceiling with empty dishes and vibrated every once in a while with booming laughter.
“Still haven’t told her yet huh?” said Byakko, who had obviously listened in on them with his keen sense of hearing.
“Just waiting for the right time.” Said Lan, smiling. He then sat down with his grandpa, picked up the menu and ordered his meal.
Lan had just finished his third round of the party’s 8-course kids-meal special (The training he is put through makes him burn a lot of energy, so he eats much more than a normal child his age) when the clock at the top of the manor chimed 10 o’clock. The door at one end of the hall opened and a large statue of Desmona, Othello’s wife, was wheeled out. The crowd parted before it as it was pushed towards the center of the room by two large men in tuxedos. With a clunk, the statue slid into ruts in the floor and came to a complete stop next to Othello’s statue. The statues were placed in such a way that their hands touched, almost as if they were holding each other’s hands. The music slowly faded away and a large portly man, most likely the mayor, stepped up onto the podium.
“Greetings everyone” he said in a booming voice “and thank you all for coming here today to celebrate the end of the O festival with us. Through these two weeks we have celebrated and honored the life of this great man. But now it is time to lay this all to rest as he was, side by side with the woman he loved. Once again, thank you all for coming and for this last song, as tradition dictates, only couples will be allowed to occupy the dance floor.”
Lan got up as the hall began to fill with new music, and began to search for Alayna. He first walked over to her family’s table, but found it empty. Cassio and Bianca had obviously already hit the dance floor, and Lan assumed that Alayna had probably went looking for him for this dance. He then turned towards the center of the ballroom, which was now a circle filled with pairs of dancers. As he began to walk towards it he felt a strange feeling of foreboding, his instincts were telling him to stay away from the flowing mass of people, that he should just walk away, but he ignored the feeling and continued on. Lan pushed through the first line of dancers and entered into the group, bumping into couples here and there. While searching for Alayna, he briefly caught sight of Cassio and Bianca as well as Rodrick and his wife. For the brief moments when they each saw him, Lan thought that Cassio, Bianca, Rodrick, and Rodrick’s wife looked worried the moment they recognized him. But Lan quickly brushed off the feelings of disquiet they gave him and continued to search for Alayna.
Finally, a quarter of the way into the song, Lan noticed a small green dress vanish between two dancers. Smiling, Lan ran after it, slipping through the gaps between dancers with amazing precision. Passing by two darkly dressed patrons, Lan emerged into a small circular space almost free of dancers. It was there that Lan caught sight of Alayna. He lifted up his arm in greeting and was about to yell out to get her attention. But the yell died on his lips as he saw who was with her.
James, wearing a black dress shirt and black pants, was dancing with her in the center of the small circle. The two of them were embracing, their eyes closed and the mouths curved into smiles as they moved right and left across the floor, their faces flushed from their close proximity to each other. Lan lowered his arm, and the warm feelings that had filled him before had vanished. Alayna had never blushed like that when she danced with him, she also never looked as happy as she did now. Lan felt an empty feeling fill his stomach as what the mayor had said only minutes before rang through his skull.
“couples only. Couples only.”
“Oh how cute” he heard someone near him say.
“A perfect young couple.” said another.
These comments ignited Lan’s anger like gasoline being thrown onto a bed of hot coals. Lan’s breathing grew deeper and faster, his vision focusing only on James and Alayna’s embraced forms. He hated them. He hated them more than anything else right now. He took a single step forward and when he placed the foot on the ground, he released a shockwave of aura that smashed the ground under his foot, sending up a cloud of white powder and creating a network of cracks. The crowd around him gasped in surprise, and many moved away from the young boy. Alayna and James jumped in alarm as well and turned to look at Lan’s seething form.
Lan, his fists tightly clutched and his mind dulled with rage, lifted his foot up to take another step forward. He wanted to hurt them, he wanted to make them pay for making him hurt this much. But that feeling was short lived, but a momentary eruption in Lan’s gentle spirit. The moment he looked into Alayna’s face, which was now full of fear, Lan felt his anger fade away and quickly replacing it was shame, emptiness, and despair.
Tears were beginning to trickle down his face. He tried his best to hide them, to not show his weakness to Alayna, but it wasn’t working. Especially since the dancers around him had quickly surrounded him and had made him the center of attention, now that they saw that he wasn’t a threat to them. They all asked him if he was all right, what was wrong, and if there was anything they could do. Lan’s red face was buried in his hands, trying to hide away from them. He peeked out between his wet fingers, hoping that some of them had left.
What he saw was Alayna, who was walking towards him with a worried expression on her face.
“Lan?” she said.
No. She couldn’t see him like this. Not in such a shameful state. Lan screamed, releasing a shockwave of aura that caused all those around him to lose balance and fall onto their backsides.
Lan leapt from where he had been standing and slipped through the crowd, running past person after person until he had reached a door that led outside. Lifting a fist, Lan smashed his knuckles into its polished wood, and sent the double doors flying off their hinges. Then with a cry filled with anguish and despair, Lan dashed through the opening and ran into the dark moonless night, tears streaming down his face rain, just like that night 3 weeks ago.