Chapter 28 - Festival of the Fowl
The Festival of the Fowl was quite the feast. I had never seen so many different chicken dishes before. I certainly had never seen a mountain of fries as big as the one they brought out as we approached the cluster of tables and chairs that had been set up. Stacks of fried chicken, heaps of chicken strips, plates of grilled chicken burgers, massive bowls of chicken pasta, and much more were laid out on dozens of enormous tables.
I ate until I felt like I was about to burst, Terra keeping up with me easily. Smokes loaded his plate with a bit of everything, and proceeded to shovel it down his throat. One, who continued to amaze me with the mere fact that he could eat, attacked a plate of fried chicken strips with great gusto.
Enjoying a healthy portion of food herself with way more dignity than the rest of us (Terra had barbecue sauce dripping from her chin, which I kissed off much to her amusement), Jenna asked Neeko, “So you knew about the facility all along?”
Neeko nodded, setting down her glass. “Nothing concrete, but yes. We found several records of the facility while looking through historical documentation of Wenapaj. It’s a shame the facility was destroyed by ignorance, but with people like One and Jimmy here, I think we can bring back the Glyche in a positive light.”
“I’ll drink to that!” Smokes shouted. Everyone nearby gave a hearty shout back and tossed back their drinks through various masks, hoods, and scarves.
Just as I sat back, my plate empty and my stomach full, the music started up. Cleftan paired off and danced; some waltzing, some doing the tango, some even break-dancing.
Terra grabbed my hand, excitement in her eyes. I let myself be pulled to the dance floor. We spun around the dance floor, occasionally trying some of the different styles around us, which usually ended with both of us red-faced and laughing.
As the music became more somber, we fell into a slow waltz. Terra rested her head on my shoulder and I closed my eyes. I stroked her hair and fuzzy ears, my heart beating faster than I thought possible. It felt like we were floating across the dance floor in a world all of our own.
The music came to a stop as a large Cleftan stepped out into the middle of the dancing area and pulled out a fiddle. As the dancers cleared away, he played lively tune that soon had everyone clapping along.
As his song drew to a close, he called out, “Who’s next? Come on now, people, someone’s got the music inside them, and it’s just aching to get out!”
“Why don’t you play something?” I asked Terra as the Cleftan continued to good-naturedly goad the crowd.
She went red again. “I don’t know. I’ve never played in front of a crowd.”
“Would you play if I go first?”
She bit her lip for a moment before nodding in agreement and slipping her kuon into my hand.
I called out, “I’ll have a go!”
Everyone applauded as I stood up on the band stage and took the kuon in hand. I held it between my palms like Terra had shown me and concentrated. Unfortunately, I concentrated a little too hard; a rush of sounds blasted from the instrument.
Everyone laughed, including me. Shaking my head, I said, “Let’s try that again.”
In moments, music began to ebb forth from the stone. Much like the first time, the sound reminded me of the wind blowing across the river reeds near my bridge. Perhaps because of that, the song had a wistful and lonely melody. As I continued playing, I imagined being back home and standing on the bridge, watching as the clouds passed overhead.
Feeling a hand on mine, I opened my eyes to see Terra’s soulful eyes staring into my own. Taking a seat beside me, she slipped a hand between mine and the kuon. There was the briefest of pauses, then my song continued, accentuated with the strangely cosmic sound of Terra’s that brought to mind staring at the night sky. She was at the Saybaro with me, like the light of the stars or the warmth of the sun. Our songs wove together and ultimately joined as one melody of contentment that echoed through the air until it faded to nothingness.
Thunderous applause broke out from the crowd. Smokes stood on his cheer and let out a loud whistle. Both blushing, Terra and I headed back to our table as trio of Cleftan started a lively little dance number.
“It’s the strangest thing.” I told her as we walked back, “It was like a prison to me when I first got here, and now, I hate not being there.”
Terra kissed me on the cheek and said, “We’ll be back soon enough. Then you can show me everything.”
As we sat down, a familiar voice shouted, “Hey, Jimmy!”
I turned and saw a red mustache ... and a wizard’s robe. Breathing a sigh of relief, I extended my hand. “Hello Seed Thamasa. I’m surprised to see you here.”
“Melchior, Melchior, Jimmy. You aren’t one of my students.” He sat down beside me, and started filling up his plate. “Nice town, Erris, isn’t it?”
“You knew about this place?” I asked, surprised.
Melchior laughed. “Found it by accident during one of my teleportation experiment mishaps. Nice enough place, though they are an eccentric people at times. Still, we all have our eccentricities, yes?”
As if to point out his comment, a tall Cleftan wearing a red vest, yellow pants, bunny slippers, a long black trench coat, a smiling mask, and a wide-brimmed hat with a feather sticking out of it passed by, pausing a moment to shake hands with Melchior.
“Hi, Fawkes!” Melchior told the Cleftan cheerily. “Anyway, I’ve been trying to get them to open up to the public for years, but they seem set on only letting outsiders who find their way here in on the secret of Erris’s existence.” He shrugged again before returning to his plate.
Jenna came back with a plate of fries drenched in cheese. She nearly dropped the plate when she saw Melchior. “Oh! Seed Thamasa! Hello!”
He smiled pleasantly at her. “Hello, Jenna. You doing okay?”
She nodded, sitting down beside him. “I’m okay. I could still use a little work, but I’m well enough.”
“Then you’ll be delighted to know that we managed to restore full power to the Cylell facility by tying it into the Center’s power grid. With the rest of the skrievers online, it’s only a matter of time before they start rebuilding the new core.”
Jenna hesitated a moment before asking, “Did they find any other … any other core units?”
Melchior sighed. “None with intact cores, I’m afraid. We are currently going through the Center’s relics and artifacts to see if one or two ended up being sold, but all the cores in the facility were frames only.”
“May their souls rest in peace.” She whispered, bowing her head and closing her eyes.
We were all silent for a long moment out of respect for her fallen friends.
After the moment passed, Terra asked, “How is Ell holding up?”
“Yes!” I said, remembering our friends at the Center, “And Flip too. Has she recovered?”
“Recovered, no, but she is up and about. A little more so than my staff would like, to be honest.”
“No luck on changing her back, then?” Terra said sadly.
Melchior shook his head. “I’ve tried a few things, but all those spells and energy beams merging together made her null to anything magical. She’s even reflecting stun beams, which has created other problems.”
I raised an eyebrow at this. “Don’t tell me she’s gotten violent.”
“A few times. Don’t worry, though; Ell’s keeping her in check. He asked about you, by the way. Something about an investigation?”
“Investigation?” I repeated, looking at Terra. She shrugged, looking just as confused as I felt until it hit us both at the same time.
We both sighed and said simultaneously, “There’s a witch in the tower.”
Everyone, including Neeko and Thyme (who had just returned from filling up their plates) continued to stare at us as though we’d gone mad.
“The Mayor of Brigsonstrat asked me to check on a witch who may or may not have accidentally blown up a stream generator on the outskirts of town.” I said as Terra patted my hand. “It’s why we came to the Center; the tower doesn’t have an entrance, and we needed someone who could get us in.”
Smokes suddenly jerked awake. “Yo!” He shouted, standing up and throwing his hand in the air.
“Well, if anyone from the center can make a path into Minuet Tower, it’d be you, Smokes.” Melchior tipped his mug toward the laid-back mage.
While I could tell Terra wasn’t thrilled about the idea of Smokes coming along, I nevertheless said, “You’re more than welcome to tag along, but I gotta warn you: we have no idea what to expect when we get in there.”
Smokes blew a raspberry at my warning. “Yeah, like some witch’s gonna be a match for me!”
“Just what do you mean by …” Terra started, but I quickly kissed her before she could finish. She shoved me away, her grin contradicting the reproachful look she gave me.
Melchior chuckled. “Ah, young love. By the way, where’s that Dreamer doll of yours?”
I glanced around the table, saying, “Plush One? He was right there a few minutes ago.”
One’s head popped out of his plate of chicken strips. “Huh? Who’s talkin’ about me?”
A yawn escaped my lips. Shaking my head, I rose from my seat and said, “I think I’m going to turn in for the night.”
Neeko stood up as well. “I’ve got a few guest rooms in my house. I’ll show you the way.”
“Good night, Jimmy.” Terra said, taking my hand and giving it a squeeze.
I bent down and kissed her. “You too.”
Once we were out of earshot, Neeko asked, “Sorry if this is a rude question, but why haven’t you two completed the bond?”
“She wasn’t ready, and to be honest, neither was I.” I blushed, adding, “I get why she’s worried, of course; the circumstances of our initial bonding was a little unusual. We both thought it best to slow down, get to know each other better.”
“And have you?”
“I think so.” I told her. “Between memories transferred through the bond, the messages we exchanged after the incident with the dragon, and the time we’ve spent while on this little adventure, I feel I’ve come to know her much better. I’d like to think she feels the same.”
Neeko scoffed at this. “I’ve only known you for a few days, and it’s pretty clear to me that you’re a decent fellow … for a Galden, of course. Besides, it looks to me she knows you pretty well. I guess that’s why it’s so surprising to me that you two haven’t completed the bond yet.”
“Maybe she’s just not ready to complete the bonding.” I said, my cheeks growing warm. “I’m admittedly a bit nervous myself. I mean, what if I’m … y’know, not any good?”
“Any good at ... oh, that.” She snorted again. “I’m not speculating on your side, but you seem like the sort who’d put her happiness before your own. With that mentality, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
Glittering eyes stared at us from all directions as we entered Neeko’s hands. As the lights came on, the cats all meowed complainingly and sauntered off in all directions.
“Well, when you two finally do get together, don’t forget to invite your friends to the ceremony.” She said pointedly. “I don’t want to miss out on a good party.”
“Consider yourself invited. Heck, maybe I’ll come grab a chicken for the festivities.” I said.
She showed me to my room, a nice if oddly plain chamber with a bed, a desk, a dresser, and a large black cat with a white-tipped tail.
“Well, make yourself at home.” Neeko said. “I’m gonna go make another round on the chicken, maybe squeeze in some dancing. Good night, Jimmy.”
Once she was gone, I fell back onto the bed and stared up at the ceiling. Terra and I, married … it was something to think about. We’d only know each other for about half a year (less, really, considering all her disappearances during the mess with the dragon), but according to my own research on the matter, that was actually on the long side for Longshoran relationships. In truth, I was all for the idea, even if the thought of asking made my stomach quiver.
I remembered the beautiful dress Iniagus had promised to award either Arc or myself when we proved we were the hero. I imagined how Terra would look in it, walking down a church aisle with a bouquet of purple and blue flowers in her hand, fresh picked from the ivies at the Saybaro.
For a brief moment, I actually wished I was the hero. Fortunately, I quickly came to my senses.
“Get a grip, Jimmy.” I said, rolling over, “I’ve got enough to deal with without all that hero nonsense.”
I nodded off, slipping into a pleasant dream. Terra and I were walking hand in hand down the aisle of an elegant, if unfamiliar, cathedral. She was absolutely stunning in the hero dress, though she had forgone shoes as per shoran tradition.
Just before we reached the alter, I woke up.
Terra was beside me, sleeping soundly. She looked to have been there for awhile; it was her nestling against me that had awoken me.
I put my arm around her, and kissed her gently on the forehead. She smiled in her sleep, and huddled closer. As I fell back to sleep, my love in my arms, I knew it didn’t matter if we bonded completely or not. As long as she was with me, I felt complete, and that was good enough for me.