A puff of smoke burst out of the stage, and the forms of the savage Arcelia and miniature Hampel vanished into the cloud of gray. Above the stage, droplets of water glistened in the glow of Clemmedeus, shining down a rainbow of colors onto the cheering crowd.
From the side of the stage, Caelum and Lily watched in awe and wonder, both with eyes wide from the display they had witnessed. Talos, resting on Caelum’s fur coated shoulder, lay with closed eyes, having seemingly slept through the entire performance. Caelum smirked as a light snore escaped the feather creature’s maw.
Silly thing is definitely suffering a sugar crash, Caelum thought to himself as he stopped clapping to pet the snoring beast. His fingers gently pressed and scratched against the scales wing blades of Talos, who responded to this action with a soft purr. Even with the surrounding din of cheers and distant vendors still pushing their meals, he could make out the sound of the Dracloud and shook his head.
Honestly, with the amount of food all three of them had consumed, it was a wonder how he and Lily weren’t as tired as Talos. Then again. Caelum looked at Lily beside him. In the glistening lights around them, he could make out the brilliant brown pools through her blond wig, now even more eschew, letting her black locks break through. Her infectious merriment hit him as he looked down at her, causing him to smile again.
Caelum looked up at the stage, his own golden eyes glinting in excitement. While the food is great, and the costumes, albeit not as lore accurate as he would like, were creative and interesting, this was his favorite part of the night - the entertainment and showcasing of new magic. Of new charms and spells. Festivals were a unique hybrid of fun and research - two things Caelum loved.
Caelum put his hand on Lily’s shoulder. The little girl looked up and gave him a massive grin. In the lights of the stage, bits of candy glinted against her teeth. In her hand, a candied apple waved about, having succumb to her bite moments before. With a chuckle, Caelum squeezed her shoulder, and looked back to the stage, awaiting the continuation of the show.
Behind the three, several meters back to the vendor stalls, voices of cooks and salesmen used the momentary lull in the performance to try and entice those of the outer perimeter. Though their charms and pitches did catch a few children and adults, the two forms of Sophia and Nilya seemed immune, focused still on the completed performance and the settling smoke.
From atop their glowing gourds, the pair has some of the best views of the show - massive vegetables carved in demonic appearance rested throughout the outer limits of the central area, offering both lighting and vantage points for observing those below. Sophia, wearing her witch's hat, relaxed back and looked up at the night sky.
“See Nils,” Sophia turned her head toward her companion, giving her a comforting smile. Across from her, Nilya, legs hanging off of the gourd as her many tails balanced her graceful form, smiled meekly.
“I told you this would be a good show.” Sophia looked back above her head, watching the floating bubbles and wisps of smoke ascend into the heavens. “And,” she continued, “from here we can avoid anyone you want.”
Nilya nodded at this, looking at her friend with a twinkle of joy in her eyes. “You were right, Sophia. This has been a great experience. But…” Nilya looked back toward the crowd below them, looking at the stage in anticipation of the next act. Several closer to the duo looked back toward the food stands, and even looked up at the two. Upon catching the eye of one of these costumed people, Nilya blushed and hid herself behind two of her tails, her breathing accelerating in fear.
A gentle breeze swirled about Nilya, brushing her fur in a comforting pet. Nilya peeked her violet eyes from the flowing white tails, to see a pair of warm and concerned eyes staring directly at her. As the breeze of Gale magic calmed the Kitsune, Sophia spoke.
“It’s ok. I know this is a lot, but you’re doing great.” Sophia smiled, and nodded toward the kingdom behind them. “If you want, we can leave at any time, and just enjoy the quiet of the rest of the kingdom. It is a beautiful night.”
Nilya lowered her tails slowly, and gave a nervous smile.
“It’s ok,” she shook her head and looked back toward the stage. “It’s just…I just don’t like the attention.”
Sophia nodded understandingly, and turned back to the stage. “Don’t worry. The next act will begin shortly. And then all eyes will be away from us. I promise.” At this, Nilya relaxed, letting her tails return to their previous position behind her.
And just in time, too, for the next act was about to begin.
The crowd grew silent as a roar bellowed from the stage. A faint pink glow shine over the wood, still wet from the previous performance. The roar echoed again, as a figure leapt from the back of the stage and into the center. As it landed, the rose aura shimmered like oil on water, pulsating around the points of the pirouetting toes. With a third and final roar, more fierce sounding than the last, the figure rose its arms over its head, revealing a long metallic shaft from behind her back. The pink glow retreated from the sides of the stage toward the center, before pooling around the figure and reflecting a haunting glow onto the now revealed woman’s features.
The woman clicked her heels together, and a click resonated over the crowd. Above her head, the long baton seemed to expand, growing outward at the end over the woman. In a flash of pink, the end took the shar form of a scythe, its rose motif matching the reds and pinks marking its exterior. At the reveal of the weapon, the pink pool swirled around the woman, rising about her in an orbit of pink light. Then, with another roar, the woman spoke.
“Well well! Look at the souls we have here tonight!” The woman’s features shone on the pink light, revealing her feline like features. Her eyes, no longer the slits of a predator, sparkled beautifully in the glow, as her feline ears twitched from side to side.
“I am the wish maker herself, the wonderful Kordesii of Eriya!” The woman, Kordesii, bowed gracefully, still pirouetted in the center of the stage. As she rose, the orbiting glow seemed to solidify, condensing into six pulsating orbs. The orbs, transparent, seemed to contain two white streaks, following Kordesii as if they were watching her every move. The six danced around Kordesii, as if she was Xeirin to their orbit.
“My specialty is granting you strength and power!” She moved her slender arms to her side, the scythe seeming to move weightlessly. “At a cost, of course. But what’s a little bit of a soul compared to this!”
At this, she grasped the scythe in both hands, and began to spin. As she did, the six orbs floated away from the scythe’s reach, expanding their orbit to the sides of the stage. As she quickened her spin, the orbs too spun faster and faster. In a swift motion, Kordesii pushed off the stage into a jump, still swirling as she ascended into the night sky. The orbs responded to this by also ascending, circling the now pink cyclone farther up.
At the peak of her leap, Kordesii ceased her spin, posing midair as she surveyed the crowd. The orbs stopped in time with her, appearing as six ghosts swirling around her slender form. Though unnoticed by those below, her pupils constricted as she searched those beneath her. As she descended, she smiled, and her eyes returned to their previous, more welcoming appearance. She found what she was looking for.
As Kordesii fell back toward the stage, another form rose beneath her, raising a hand toward the falling pink body. In the glow of the show, a white nurse's outfit hauntingly fluttered, as a warm wind swirled out from the stage. A faint hum reverberated across the air, as if from a siren luring the falling woman into her trap. The nurse let out a melodious call, as Kordesii floated in midair.
“Why Miwu!” Kordesii called out to the crowd, indicating the woman below her. As she did, four of the orbs separated from her orbit, descending to dance around the nurse. When the got close enough, the red eyes of Miwu glowed faintly against the shining pink.
“I found us some volunteers who would love to assist in this next performance!” Kordesii raised her scythe to point directly into the crowd, with a wicked grin flashed onto her soft face. “Won’t you be a dear and get them for me.”
Miwu followed the scythe to see who she was referring to, and nodded. “Of course, Kordesii.” With another hum, two of the orbs ceased their bouncing, and almost skipped through the air into the crowd. As they danced, the crowd looked up in wonder, watching a trail of pink sparks crack the air above them like miniature fireworks.
In a moment, the orbs were dancing above the heads of Caelum and a nearby woman. Caelum looked up with a grimace as he thought how he could get out of this situation. The woman, an average sized young adult with blue hair in a witch’s outfit, complete with bat wings, looked up in shock and confusion, before looking at him with her bright blue eyes. Caelum looked back and shrugged, in an attempt to comfort the woman, who clearly was not expecting this either.
“Oh please,” Miwu whispered toward the two, her voice warmly carried by a breeze and seemed to project with ease. “Won’t you two join us on stage for a little demonstration?” At this, her eyes flashed a Ruby red, as a soft hum echoed from her throat. The music seemed to warm the air around the stage, relaxing those who felt it.
A warmth emitted from above Caelum, as he felt the pink orbs shine brighter. He looked down to see Lily staring up at him, eyes wide with excitement at this. Caelum, not wanting to disappoint, resolved to let things play out, and looked back up toward the woman. The woman, also feeling the sudden warmth, seemed to relax, and gave him a slight smile, as a pink aura enveloped her. Above her, the pulsating orb melted downward, becoming the pink glow around the blue haired woman. As it covered her, a metallic charm in the shape of a spoon bounced about, as if acted on by a burst of wind. Bracing himself for this envelopment, Caelum relaxed his muscles. And closed his eyes.
As a glow of pink shine through his closed eyelids, Caelum opened them and looked down. His body remained still and unchanged, a glow not surrounding him, nor any breeze. Confused, he turned in the direction of the glow, and his eyes widened. Above his shoulder, now floating, feather quivering as if by a heavy wind, Talos glowed in the night a bright rose tint. Blinking, Caelum looked back at Lily, who was staring excitedly at Talos. Caelum grinned, and returned his stare to the stage.
“Now my lovely volunteers!” Kordesii called from above, floating in place like a miniature pink planet, orbited by her two remaining orbs, “please come to the stage for a little show, won’t you?” At this request, the chosen two floated above the rest, surrounded by the haunting pink aura. The two floated toward the stage, as the crowd beneath them cheered loudly, wondering what was planned for them. As were the volunteers, who looked about as they moved silently toward Miwu.
Once in front of the nurse, the aura released the two, who softly landed, facing Miwu. Above them, the two orbs reformed, returning to their ghostly pink appearance. They bounced once, twice, before returning to orbit around Kordesii. The remaining two orbs not orbiting Kordesii remained above the stage, swaying in time to the hum still coming from Miwu.
“You must be wondering, my lovely volunteers, why I chose you to help me demonstrate tonight!” Kordesii called down to the woman and Dracloud, pointing her scythe down at them. “Well, I saw your souls, and they look extra…tasty.” At this, she flashed them a smile, teeth glowing white in the pink glow.
As both Talos and the woman tensed, or attempted to in the relaxing warmth of Miwu’s hum, Kordesii laughed a gentle and sweet sounding giggle.
“Oh, just kidding. No, I did see your souls, and you both have some very potent skills, no?” She smiled gently at them, and turned her weapon to point toward the crowd. “Will you please show these kind people what you can do?”
At this, the humming from Miwu seemed to get louder, as her eyes flashed a deeper shade of red. The woman, turning somewhat stiffly toward the stage, bowed awkwardly to the crowd. “H…hello.” The woman nervously said, her voice coming out as a whisper, though projected to the crowd. “My…my name is Gigi…and…and I can do this.” At this, she reached her hand toward her neck, her hand enveloping the dangling spoon-shaped charm.
Suddenly, the inside of her enclosed hand began to glow azure, as a light blue aura enveloped Gigi. As the crowd watched, she opened her hand to reveal the source of the intense light - the charm shook violently, before settling and vibrating in front of the woman. As it did, it began to elongate, growing in size. Meanwhile, as the charm grew to the size of a normal soup spoon, the body of Gigi began to compact, shrinking toward the stage. In a moment, where once stood an averaged sized woman now stood a miniature Gigi, holding a metallic spoon, each above the size of Talos.
As the crowd applauded the spectacle, Talos also turned toward the crowd. Shifting in place, the previously resting Dracloud stretched his wings, before letting out a cutely fierce roar. With a flutter of his wings, he rose above the stage, spitting out a spark of flame that swirled in the warm air about them.
“Wonderful! Just the skills we need!” Kordesii winked toward the crowd, continuing, “how did I find the two perfect volunteers?” With this, she raised the scythe above her head, and whistled. The orbs dancing harmoniously to Miwu’s continued humming shot back into the air, where they raised with the no longer orbiting two to float ominously around the scythe. Talos and Gigi looked up at Kordesii, as did the rest of the crowd, as the pink woman smiled down at them.
“Now, ladies and gentlemen! Please watch as these two brave volunteers dance across the stage and avoid these little wandering souls!” At this, the crowd cheered and clapped, believing this was all part of the show. From the crowd, even Lily cheered and laughed, excited to see her friend in the show. Caelum, meanwhile, looked between Talos and Kordesii, his complexion pale as he braced himself to rush in and save Talos.
Before Caelum could act, as if suddenly encouraged by an unseen force, Talos spun in the air, flying higher between the stage and Kordesii, and let out a mighty squeak. At the same time, the timid Gigi, shaking nervously in the crowd moments before, confidently straddled the spoon, wrapping her legs about it like a broomstick. In a light blue glow, the miniature woman levitated above the stage, appearing to be a Talos-sized witch, complete with outfit and transportation. Beneath them, unheard by the cheering crowd, Miwu continued her hum, who’s enchantments seemed to wash out any doubts or worries from the floating being’s minds.
“Well if you two are ready,” Kordesii gripped the handle of her scythe tightly, grinning playfully down toward the two. As she tensed for the release, her pupils contracted again, reflecting a fiendish feline appearance. “Let’s play!”
With a roar, the scythe slashed across the sky, hitting the six orbs with a reverberating ‘ding’ chime escaping as the scythe cut through. As the ghostly orbs were slashed, they broke into hundreds of small fiery pink orbs, evenly sized and blinking like candles in the night. As soon as the last orb was hit and divided, the orbs flew swiftly through the air, targeting the two floating volunteers like meteorites.
The sound of the hundreds of projectiles zipping through the air sounded like the buzz of a galelic blight, humming and vibrating the air in contrast to the warm hum from Miwu. As the orbs got closer and closer to the two, Talos squeaked and Gigi nodded. As if understanding the other, the two departed, swirling and dancing in the air, avoiding the zipping projectiles as they rushed toward them. Before the projectiles could hit the stage, they swiftly changed their direction, aiming to strike the dodging duo. And so the crowd watched in amazement, Talos and Gigi glided through the air, skillfully dodging each fiery orb of pink, almost carelessly dancing around them as they sought to hit their targets.
Kordesii smiled as the show continued, feeling the pieces of her soul within the two flying guests working in sync to avoid the rest. As planned, she knew the pieces of soul couldn’t come in contact with each other, for she charged them as such to desire to reunite, yet would repulse from each other. Yes, she purred to herself, as she playfully swiped the air with the scythe, directing the orbs to change direction and try to attack from a different angle. Yes, the two are perfectly safe. Though having a confidence boost never hurts. She looked down at Miwu as she thought this, watching the Ruby eyed cleric hum louder, her charm seeming to increase the skills of the flying duo.
Yes, Kordesii smiled, these were some powerful souls to be sure. And what’s the harm in taking a little bit of them as payment for this show of skill. After all, after a night's rest, they’ll recover to full strength. A minor inconvenience is all. At this, her smile broadened, as her ears twitched in excitement.
And so the crowd watched with excitement at the swirling balls of pink and the two dazzling forms dodging their strikes. Even Caelum, sensing the patterns of the attacking orbs, relaxed and began cheering as well, picking Lily up onto his shoulders so she could get a better view. The cheers continued as the show of lights and aerial feats distracted the crowd and performers, enjoying themselves as the show continued.
The door to the carriage clicked softly behind the trio, as the flashes of light were enveloped by the shadows of the inside. Runty and Psy stood behind Ashes, who floated above the wooden floor. In front of them, sturdy windows of glass flickered various colors through unmoving curtains.
Despite the size of the exterior, the interior was much more spacious. From Runty’s quick estimate, the inside of the decently sized carriage was at least ten times the height and length. Toward the back, as far as could be seen before a closed oaken door cut the remainder of the inside off from their sight, desks and shelves lined the walls. The wooden planks they stood on as they entered appeared to fade further in, replaced with an intricately woven carpet, adding a soft glow as it reflected the flickering candles adorning the walls. In front of them, boxes and cages stood silent, their contents seemingly emptied as part of the show.
“I don’t believe it…”. Psy began, his eyes naturally used to the darkness, scanned the space with wonder. “All of this…in…this?” As he said this, he spread his arms out, as if to embrace the space before him.
“Yep,” Runty stepped forward, pupils sharpened to feline slits as he looked to the ceiling above them. Wooden arches of red and gold spanned above them, seemingly meters above their heads. Yet, even though his sight could see through the darkest of night, Runty couldn’t seem to make out the top of the ceiling, as if the roof of their enclosure ended in pure nothingness. “The Magikingdom must have some powerful charms to enchant such a space in this way. Whoever this ringleader is, he’s definitely not low ranked.”
A faint whisper of music drifted through the windows, as a pink glow warmed the glass. As the glow intensified, Runty turned his head toward the door, sensing the increase in magic.
“The next act has started, so we better get goin’”, Runty began walking around the boxes, traveling deeper into the hallway of a carriage before them. With a silent nod, Psy followed, head twisting back and forth as he passed the shelves and desks. Ashes floated silently behind the two, her entire focus on the contents of the shelves, as if looking for something in particular.
Farther in, the duo’s steps became muffled as they walked onto the colorful carpet. With each step, a faint glow remained, appearing as if two invisible beings followed the three. Candles flickered silver flames, reflecting their shadows faintly, mixed together with the shadows of objects around them - dolls and outfits sat unmoving, as the contents of glass vials splashed color across their stern, curious faces.
Ashes stopped and whispered to the two, “stop.” As the two stopped and turned to face her, she raised a costumed arm and pointed ahead toward the now closer door. The door itself looked over the three, ornate wood carvings now clearly visible in the flickering light. The designs of the wood made the appearance of intricate loops and twists that would normally appear like a gnarled chaotic mess. But in the surrounding candlelight, the twitching shadows bounced expertly off of the facade, creating the illusion of a looming forest of shadow. As Psy looked forward, memories of the Deathforest sparked throughout his mind.
Ashes might have shared such sparks of memory, had she not been focused on an object in front of them. Beside the door, illuminated by the same flickering glow, was a sturdy desk. Scattered papers rested atop the wood, weighed down by various writing utensils and objects. One of which was a simple glass orb, resting on a three pronged stand. The violet cloud within swirled calmly in place, blobs of inky black popping up before being enveloped by the violet again.
Floating forward, Ashes passed her hand over the orb. As soon as the palm was within centimeters of the object, the contents glowed softly, reacting to the spirit’s wavelength. Though illuminated by flickering light, a cool lavender sigil formed over the glass facade, reflecting in the eyes of the intruders.
“This is it,” Ashes said, a slight quiver in her voice. She looked back at her companions, who could clearly see the anxiety reflected in her ghostly wide eyes. “This is the one from the opening. And it’s the same orb they had me in.” Looking back toward the orb, she added, “or at least one similar.”
Runty, now able to clearly see the sigil before him, stepped forward. “Hold on Ashe,” Runty walked up to the desk, his focus on the glowing purple symbol. “This looks like a…”
Before he could finish his thought, a snicker cut him off. Above the three, the looming shadows of the ceiling seemed to descend toward them. The once visible arches faded into nothingness, as faint glints of light reflecting from numerous somethings blinked in the surrounding candlelight. These somethings appeared long and thin, almost like…
“WELL WELL WELL,” a shrill voice cackled from above. The trio looked to see a small puppet swinging to and fro through the now hidden rafters, sitting on a makeshift swing of string. As he swung back and forth, the strings around him lowered closer and closer. “What DO we have here? Don’t you children know autographs ain’t until AFTER THE SHOW?”
At this, the puppet chuckled again, it’s laugh rattling through the air, despite the mouth of the puppet refusing to move. Once the puppet was just over the three, it continued.
“Oh well, whatever shall Hampel do. What, oh WHAT?” The puppet Hampel raised a nub arm to its chin and seemed to scratch it in a pondering motion. Runty glanced over to Psy, who’s muscles tensed as he watched the descending strings. Looking over to Ashes, Runty could see a mixture of fear and anger flash on her face. Seeing this, Runty calmed himself, and took a step forward.
“Hampel! The great and magnificent puppet! We were just too excited to meet you, so we had to come in and say hello!” Runty spread his arms out, a sly smile etched across his face. “Honestly, this place is amazing! Why isn’t this part of the show?”
Hampel cocked its head as Runty spoke, halting the string’s descent as he listened. Runty tapped his foot as he spoke, alerting Psy to their code for “play along and we won’t have to fight.” Psy looked toward the puppet and nodded.
“The way you did that mermaid show was…was…”, Psy stumbled as he tried to figure the best word to say in the situation.
“EXPLOSIVE!” Runty blurted out, emphasizing it to sound like an excited child.
Psy nodded quickly, “yes, exactly! Explosive”
Hampel floated lower to the three, its masked face seemingly looking at each of their faces. Then, a light chuckle reverberated from its plush body.
“Boy, oh BOY!” Hampel’s shrill voice sounding like nails against metal. “Of COURSE you are fans! Must be to be so STUPID as to come in. UNINVITED! Well then,” Hampel raised above the three slowly, its marionette face smiling ominously down. “I GUESS I SHOULD TREAT MY FANS TO AN EXCLUSIVE SHOW!” At this, the plush raised its two nub arms outward, as a rainbow of sparks erupted through the darkness into two orbs of colorful lightning.
“I like to call this special act THE TRESPASSER’S TANGLE!” The doll chuckled again, now with malice in its cadence.
At the sight of the orbs, Ashes summoned her pillow and threw it between the puppet and the three. In a flash of light, the twin orbs rocketed toward the pillow, colliding with it. The air smelled of ozone as a sizzling crackle echoed through the space. The space above the trio was blacked out by the massive spectral cushion, but behind the mass a chaotic glow of color shined forth.
“NOW!” Runty yelled, reaching to the sides of his leathered outfit to grab two concealed smoke bombs. Ashes held her hands up, the pale fingertips emitting thin pink strands, connecting themselves to the shuttering pillow. Psy, turning around, grabbed the still faintly glowing orb, and placed it into his satchel.
“I’ll hold this thing off as long as I can!” Ashes tensed her arms as she extended them toward the pillow, the pink connections glowing harder as they stitched themselves around the pillow, appearing like string to a piece of cloth. As the two nodded, the chuckle from behind the pillow grew louder, more excited.
“Oh oh OH!” The shrill voice bounced around the interior. “I see I SEE OH WHAT SILLY LITTLE BRATS!” The edges of the pillow shuddered at each word, as the three watched, considering the best moment to escape. Then, in the faint glow of the pink stitches, the silver glint of the puppet strings revealed their movement, snaking around their main line of defense. The numerous strings continued to envelop the sides of the pillow, some stabbing into the sides with sharpened ends, others reaching downward to Pierce the intruders in place.
“Now?” Psy looked over to Runty, who’s grip of the twin bombs in his hands tightened. Runty’s blue eyes seemed to have cooled, becoming a dull blue as he focused on the task at hand.
“Not quite…”. Runty quickly looked around them, keeping a count of the number of breaches to their defensive barrier. Ashes continued to focus her energy upward, stitching the damage to her pillow while directing some strands to ward off the incoming silver strings. The laughter above them continued.
“Tick tock tick tock little THIEVES!” Hampel giggled as more string snakes downward. “Okay. Enough FUN. LET’S GET TO THE FINALE!”
At this, Runty felt something in the air change. Not taking a moment to wait, he nodded to Psy, who saw the motion and nodded as well. Before Hampel could bring forth his great finale, Runty threw the two smoke bombs at either side of the pillow, enveloping the air between the puppet and the three with thick gray smoke.
“Well that was a waste of smoke. I DON’T BREATHE SILLY BRATS!” Hampel chuckled again, raising his nubs again. “Now, BACK TO THE FINALE!”
Noticing no motion beneath it, and how the pillow lost some of its previous resistance, Hampel cocked its head.
“Helllllo? HELLLLO?” Its shrill voice cried out in vain. Moments passed as Hampel focused its power and unleashed a final flurry of strikes, as the sharpened ends of the strings sliced the spectral barrier into mere wisps of energy and ghostly cloth. The once glowing pink stitches vanished, replaced with ash particles falling softly to the carpeted floor. Leading away from where the intruders once stood, faint golden footprints shined on the carpet, three sets leading toward the now ajar exit.
Hampel sighed as it shook its plush head. “Master Koo will not be happy about that. But,” Hampel floated toward the rear door, also resting ajar. As it floated to the handle and pushed it back into place, the puppet giggled.
“I suppose the Master will be better fit at stopping those children.”
With a snicker, the doll floated out of the carriage's front door, its head seemingly cracking from side to side as he bounced toward the stage. As the carriage stood, alone once more, the door creaked slowly back, clicking into place.
Clemmedeus gazed brightly down through the canopy as the three forms burst through the nearby brush. As the two physical bodies stamped against the dusty earth, the spectral form of the third sped just behind them. The lights of the festival crept through the tree line, with the sounds of explosions bouncing off of the solid walls and into the quiet night air.
“I think we lost that thing.” Runty stopped, turning his back toward the distant lights and sounds, eyeing the way they came. Beside him, Psy pressed his feet against the ground, skidding to a stop as he turned too. Above the duo, Ashes floated passed, stopping seamlessly midair and lined herself up behind the two. Around them, a gentle wind chilled the air, rusting the leaves about the clearing.
“Are you sure?” Psy looked around quickly, alert eyes scanning for any potential changes to their surroundings. “We’re still in the city, after all. They could be right behind us.”
Runty relaxed his stance and looked toward his friend. “The Gardens of Halosin are the best place to get lost in this city! Where else would you find a forest surrounded by walls? And besides,” Runty closed his eyes and slowed his breathing. After a moment, he opened his eyes and looked directly into Psy’s. “I’m not detecting any souls in the area. Except for some insects and sleeping Tamia over that way.”
Ashes floated lower to the two, her pale form reflecting hauntingly in the moonlight. “From the sheer force that…that thing was emitting,” she shuttered, as if affected by the seasonal breeze. She shook her head. “If that thing was even near us, I would sense it.”
Runty nodded and smiled at the two. “See? All alone. Now,” he slammed a fist into an open palm, “let’s make a plan to rescue that slime girl and avoid that weird doll thing.”
Psy stepped forward at this, fumbling at his side, hand buried in his satchel. After a second, he raised his now-full hand upward, revealing its fingers as it grasped a round object. In the moonlight, the contents of the purple and black sphere seemed to churn about ominously.
“Or we can celebrate a clean getaway.” Psy smiled, blushing as he turned the orb over in his hand. The glass vessel glistened in the light, reflecting in the excited eyes of Ashes and Runty.
“Psy, you beautiful sneaky thief you!” Runty chuckled, taking a step toward Psy. “I gotta hand it to ya, only you would be quick enough to filch that prize! Now, let’s get a closer look at that sigil…”
Runty extended his hand out and rested his outstretched palm on top of the orb. Closing his eyes again, he breathed out a long breath, motionlessly pushing himself toward the vessel. Within the pair’s palms, the orb let out a faint purple glow.
“There we go,” Runty smiled, opening his eyes and moving his hand away from the orb. Before him, a faint purple sigil curved intricately across the surface, etched into the glass, yet showing no damage to the smooth surface. As he focused on the symbol, his eyes widened in realization.
“I…I know what that symbol is.” Runty looked quickly up to Psy, and then to Ashes. “We’ll need to take this out of the city, and find somewhere safe to open it. We can’t just…”
Runty turned to see the shaking form of Ashes float closer to him. A faint pink aura glowed around her form, as her white hair swirled madly around her. Her shoulders, tense against her sides, shook as she glared at Runty. As Runty looked back into her anger-filled eyes, Ashes continued.
“We are not waiting a second more! You don’t know what those orbs are like! You don’t know what it’s like to be trapped, stolen and away from your home!” Ashes shook her head back and forth.
“No, we are setting her free NOW!”
At the yelling of the last word, Runty tried to speak, trying to calm down his spirit friend, whom he knew had suffered being captured by a similar vessel. But as he tried to speak, Ashes’ hand glowed a fiery pink. Before he could react, Ashes lunged toward Psy, pressing her neon palm onto the orb.
There was a click, and a hiss, and a pop as the orb opened, and the contents of it escaped onto the ground around the three.
A swirling vortex of lavender fog spread across their feet, passing silently by. In front of Psy, who stood firm, gripping the now clear vessel, a miniature storm of all shades of purple swirled about. From the heart of the storm, a light blue form took shape, condensing from a shifting liquid into a more solid form. Within moments, the swirls of black and purple also solidified, fitting against the formed body, becoming clothes and hair for the humanoid before them. With a gasp of the night air, the form opened its eyes, golden irises scanning the area in shock and panic.
“What?” The feminine voice raspily whispered, looking from Psy to Runty to Ashes in bewilderment. “Where, where am I? Has it been an hour? What…” The eyes narrowed as she focused on the vessel, resting in Psy’s grip. “What are you doing with THAT?”
At this, the body shifted clumsily forward, rippling as it moved toward Psy. As it raised an arm toward him, drops of her form fell from her, like sweat off the body. She only managed two short steps before stopping, centering her body as more drops descended to her feet.
“It’s…it’s not….been enough time…” The slime being breathed, it’s ink black hair swirling lazily around her shoulders. “Why…why did you…why did you?”
Ashes lowered herself to face their new companion face to face. With a gentle smile, she spoke. “Hello my friend. We rescued you from those dreaded Magi-fiends. My name is Ashes, and what is yours?”
The form shuttered, more drops descending. She looked at the ghostly face staring at her, and opened her mouth. But, instead of the raspy voice, only a low gurgle came from her mouth. As the slime body lowered herself to the ground, Ashes continued to watch her, smile fading as her eyes widened in fear and confusion.
“What, what is happening?” Ashes turned to Psy, still standing in place, as if paralyzed by shock. Her eyes darted to the vessel, still glinting in the moonlight.
“I…I…” Psy stumbled, eyes wide with shock, glancing between Ashes, Runty, and the still lowering slime being before them.
The voice croaked through the trees, originating somewhere behind Psy. As the group turned to look up, the voice continued.
“Oh dear, oh dear. Now what are you doing? Tut tut children. This is a grown up toy. Here, why not something more for the kiddies?”
The voice seemed to jump behind Runty, causing the three to look swiftly toward the source, toward the distant festival. As they did, Runty caught a flicker of movement between himself and Psy.
“Psy, what’s that?” Runty pointed to Psy’s hand, still gripping a round object. But it was no longer the clear glass vessel from before. Now, resting in his palm, an orange sphere lay dully, the glow of the moon illuminating the gourd-like features of the object. As the three looked down at it, a swift ticking sound mixed with the soft plops of the slime to the slowly growing puddle.
“I think this thing is…” Psy began, but was interrupted by an audible click, and a flurry of confetti. Orange and purple spat from the orange pumpkin, now without a top. From within, a miniature black form slowly rose, spinning in place as it did.
In the pale moonlight, the figure’s features revealed themselves to be a female figure, wearing a dark shaded maid outfit. The pink hair flowing to its sides was adorned with small plastic roses, with little cat ears poking upward toward the sky. As it fully extended out of the gourd, a high pitched meow echoed from within the orb.
As Psy looked at the toy in confusion and disbelief, Runty narrowed his eyes and turned back toward the brush, where the voice had last been heard.
“Show yourself!” Runty adjusted his arms to his sides, hands grasping the daggers strapped to his leather costume. “You were able to take the vessel from us, so you could’ve clearly attacked if you wanted! What do you want?”
At this, a flurry of shadows shot from the sky. Runty braced himself, pulling the daggers free and raising his arms over his head, to shield from the oncoming projectiles. The sharp shadows slowed, suddenly shifting in their descent to a gentle fall. As Runty watched the leaves fall, he quickly turned around.
Standing between the three of them, in front of the bubbling form of the slime figure, a shadowed form towered, appearing like a tree that broke free from the ground. Raising an arm, the orange and green fabric shone in the light, revealing the original glass orb being gripped in a white gloved hand. As he stared down at them, seafoam eyes sparkling ominously behind a crimson mask, a crooked smirk grew on his face.
“To do this, of course.” The figure stated, the raspy voice rumbling from its still smirking lips, as he squeezed on the orb. A faint green glow emitted from his hand, washing his form in a sickly neon green glow.
As Runty and Psy lowered themselves, preparing to defend Ashes, the man leaned downward, passed them, and reached his arm toward the slime. Pressing the glowing green orb into the top of the slime puddle, a soft click could be heard. In a flash of green, the fog and slime that once soaked into the surrounding ground was gone. The clear glass of the orb now swirled again with a black and purple liquid, as a pair of golden eyes looked up toward the man. They blinked slowly, as if in appreciation of the sudden capture.
“Now then,” the raspy voice said, rising back to tower over the three. With another smirk, he raised his hand to his chin, and cradled it in a curious fashion.
“Now, now, now. Whatever shall I do with you three?”
A cool breeze swirled about the four forms in the clearing. In the distance, flashes of green and pink glowed behind the dark trees. A chittering yell seemed to emanate from the flashes. As the three smaller forms stood and looked toward the fourth, the taller figure looked outward toward the glow. As he stared, the figure tapped its foot in time to the faintest of music heard on the wind.
“Look at that,” the voice of Koo sighed from the tall figure, as it shook its head back and forth. “You children made me miss the Great Escape of Elven Grace!” At this, he looked down at Psy, the closest to him, and winked. “Trademarked to the Magikingdom”.
Psy looked back at the man, confused, as Runty stepped forward. “Look, we’re sorry we stole from you,” Runty lowered his head. “We didn’t mean…”
“No!” Ashes floated up from behind the other two, glowing a deep shade of pink as she did. Her eyes sparked with a mix of anger and disgust. “Runty, do not apologize to this…this…this monster!”
Before Runty could respond, Ashes darted forward toward the clown. In a moment, the glowing spirit of rage was floating before Koo, air crackling from the magic emitting from her small body.
Koo, in response, raised his arms to his side, and playfully shrugged. “Please, my love,” the raspy voice feigned confusion, “can you elaborate? I truly am a monster, but I can’t recall what I did to be called one by such a little pup as yourself.” At this, the clown smiled a devilish grin, teeth glowing pink from his accuser.
“But whatever it was, I must say I’m excited to know more.”
Ashes pointed a crackling finger toward his side, where the now filled glass orb rested securely in a brace. The contents remained dark and murky, as if unaffected by the spirit’s aura.
“You stole this woman and forced her into your show! I know what that is, and know what it’s like inside them!” Ashes spoke with a reverberation in her voice, as if her magic was affecting it as well. “You Magikingdom thugs are all the same - steal the weak and force them into your cruel shows!”
Throughout this verbal assault, Koo continued to smile and stare directly into Ashes’ eyes. At the end of her sentence, Koo’s smile shrunk to a grin, as he tilted his head at her.
“Aha!” Koo raised a hand, made a fist, and slammed it into his other, outstretched palm. “I think I understand now!” Relaxing his hand, he extended his finger and pointed to each of the three, continuing.
“You have an idea about what this is all about,” pointing at Runty, who had adjusted himself to a relaxed pose. “You have the wrong idea,” pointing at Ashes, who continued to glare at him, “though I must say I think I know why.” Pointing toward Psy, the clown smirked, “and you, my young goat, just have no idea.”
With a raspy snicker, he added, “You kinda are a helpless idiot, ain’tcha?” At this, Psy’s eyes narrowed from their previously shocked appearance, now reflecting a similar anger shared by Ashes toward the man.
Koo sighed and shrugged. “Well, let’s walk back to the show, and I will explain what I believe the confusion is.” He winked as he stepped forward, “and I would recommend following me, and not running. After all,” his devilish smile flashed again, this time with a sinister glint from his piercing eyes. “Only thieves attempt to run. And you’re just innocent, stupid, children. Right?”
Sensing the thinly veiled threat, Runty nodded and followed the clown’s steps from the clearing. “Of course! We have nothing to hide.” Looking back at his companions, he added; “Now, I think it’s time we heard what this man has to say.” At this, Psy nodded, taking a step toward Runty, before turning back toward Ashes.
Ashes shimmered in anger at this, and shifted her glare toward Runty. As their eyes locked, her fiery rage came in conflict with the cool, calm look of her friend. After a moment, the pink aura dimmed to a faint, spectral glow, as she lowered herself closer to the ground. Still looking into Runty’s eyes, she simply nodded, and floated between Runty and Psy. Without another word, the three followed the clown out of the clearing, waiting for his explanation.
“So,” the raspy voice of Koo spoke from ahead the group of four, as the glow of the show grew brighter with each passing moment. “The little ghost girl was taken by one of my kin and placed in a Revitalization Bobble,” he tapped the glass orb on his side as he walked forward. “And so believes these are made to, what was it… steal and enslave?”.
At this, he tilted his head back and looked over his shoulder at Ashes, floating silently behind Runty and Psy, looking away from the clown. With a smirk, he added, “If I’m understanding this whole thing properly, of course.”
Runty nodded. “Ashes was captured by a young fire magician of yours, and would’ve remained trapped…”.
Before he could finish, Koo’s eyes sparked with curiosity, as his grin seemed to curl up a little more. “Oh, that little joy of a spark got me into this, did he?” Koo turned his body around to face the three, stopping in place. “I swear, if my lady wasn’t such a gracious queen and mother, that little ember of a Futo would’ve been trained better than that.”
At this, he lowered his form into a bow, holding onto his top hat as he did so. “I wish to pass my humble apologies to you, small ghost, for the pure stupidity and foolishness of the youth.”
Ashes turned to see the bowing clown, but said nothing. Psy looked toward her, noting the silent anger in her features had calmed with this gesture.
“So you didn’t steal that slime girl for your show?” Psy looked back at the clown, staring at the swirling Revitalization Bobble at his side. For a split second, a pair of eyes flashed across the murky interior, as if the slime being wanted to hear the explanation as well.
Koo raised himself back to his towering stance, grabbing the bobble and holding it before the three. “Her name is Shade. She comes from the north, from the country of Khult.” Raising the orb to the sky, the faint glow of the show reflected off its surface, creating a mesmerizing display of greens and purples.
“Her people absorb magic from the air itself, and are able to sustain themselves from this alone. However, it’s not any old magic.” Lowering the orb to his side, Koo’s appearance seemed to darken. “No…it’s Umbral magic they live off of. The very essense of shadows and Clemmedeus himself.”
At this, his features brightened as he turned and pointed to the distant stage. “She dreamed of traveling the world, to see more. But unless she’s in Khult where the air is saturated with Umbral magic, she can’t be exposed for too long. And when she is, she needs a good hour of rest before she can pop out again.”
Runty nodded. “I thought so. Halosin is a realm rich with Radiant energy, and very little Umbral. And,” pointing to the orb, “during the show and just now, that bobble showed a symbol on its surface. If I’m not mistaken, that’s an ancient seal for darkness, right?”
Tapping his side and the orb, he nodded. “Very good boy, I know you had an idea about this. Yes, what you saw was the old sigil for what our people call the Umbral Veil. Pocket darkness for those who need it!”
With a short laugh, he continued. “That’s where the Revitalization Bobble comes in. It shields the inhabitant from outside magic, effectively sealing them in a quiet, protected space.”
He turned his attention to Ashes and smiled a genuine smile. “I’m sorry you were placed into one against your wishes. But understand this is what Shade wants and needs, and she can explain it all to you when she’s rested.”
At this, the pair of eyes in the bobble blinked once slowly, as if to acknowledge and nod at this.
Psy was the first to speak. “We would be honored to listen and properly meet you, Shade.”
“No doubt,” Runty added, smiling at the bobble and giving it a wink. “We owe you that much for stealing you ourselves.”
The eyes blinked twice rapidly, in what could be interpreted as an annoyed agreement. Then, with a silent blink, the eyes vanished back into the swirling haze.
“Well now,” Koo turned around and strode toward the lights. “Since this was all a simple misunderstanding, I don’t see why any punishment should be necessary.” With a clap, he leapt from the ground and landed atop a nearby tree. Looking up, the three only saw the tall figure silohetted by Clemmedeus above them.
“Come now, little ones,” the raspy voice of Koo called from above. “I know you can follow, and we must get back quickly!”
With a leap, Runty and Psy ascended to the same elevation as the clown, as Ashes floated gracefully upward, her costume fluttering hauntingly in the evening breeze.
From the canopy of the Halosian Gardens, the three saw they were at the exit of the wooded section of the kingdom, and could see the carriage and the stage a short sprint ahead of them. From behind the stage, bolts of white and red danced, with shadows projected from behind the curtain, as clouds of pink swirled around.
“We might have missed some of the more…exciting performances,” Koo smirked, looking over at Psy and winking. Psy, holding onto a nearby trunk, looked at the man questioningly, unsure how to respond.
“But we can’t miss the finale,” Koo finished, turning to Ashes and softly smiling. “I think getting front row seats to that will be worth it.”
Ashes blushed lightly in the pale moonlight, nodding softly. With this acknowledgement, Koo broke into a devilish grin, and clapped once. The resonating boom from the clap echoed across the night sky, followed by the Magiklown’s raspy announcement.
“Well then let us go, dears! We better finish this off in style!”
The trio of thieves, led by the charismatic clown, returned to the carriage and rear of the stage at the end of a seemingly explosive penultimate act. As they approached, the floating puppet who attacked the three previously gracefully drifted through the curtain, wisps of smoke swirling around the horns of his hat. Looking down at the trio, the puppet Hampel snickered, face remaining frozen in its marionette’s grin, and nodded toward his master.
With a silent nod and wink, the ringleader stepped toward the curtain. Once under his puppet, he raised an empty hand over his head. Without a sound, a staff of brown and gold materialized within his grasp, a faint yellow aura wavering about its mahogany finish. He looked back at the three and winked.
“Best be getting to the audience as quick as you fled before.” Koo turned back and lowered the staff to his side, as Hampel gracefully swirled over his head, seeming to dance to a song no one else could hear. “Before I get annoyed.”
The three nodded and darted toward the side of the stage, following the path they entered from when locating the carriage. As the three vanished from his sight, Koo turned his head toward the curtains before him.
“Why is it always me who ends up babysitting,” Koo sighed, raising his free hand to his face, his fingers gracing the right cheek in contemplation. With a flick of the right wrist, a half white mask materialized over that portion of his face, colorful adornments and gems reflecting the curtain before him.
“Aww boss,” the shrill voice of Hampel echoed as the puppet continued to waltz. “I thought you loved the little brats? Ain’t that why you're a clown?”
With another sigh, Koo lowered his right hand to the curtain, gripping it. “Oh Hampel, you know me too well. And besides, what’s better than getting three exceptional brats to sympathize with you?”
With a devilish smirk to himself, he added, “especially those three. Oh, they have futures I do wish to be part of.”
At this, he broke into a grin, and threw back the curtains. Hampel stayed behind as Koo revealed his presence, floating above the stage in anticipation. As the audience saw him and erupted in applause, Koo stepped onto the stage, raised his arms to his sides, and bowed.
At the sign of their cue, from behind the stage, Miwu and Iris initiated the finale. As the flames sparked and the cannons revealed themselves, a swirl of hot pink and sickly green aura pulsated within the barrels, mixing with the glinting yellows and reds of the fire. Arcelia and Kordesii, holding hands as their magic combined, raised their free hands toward the two sides of rising cannons.
From above, Hampel drifted down, his puppet nuns shifting wildly back and forth. When the puppet ceased his movements, the group looked back to the stage, and awaited the final speech.
“Well, well, well,” Koo yelled to the crowd, his raspy voice smoothing somewhat to more of a charming salesman. “I must say you have been a tremendous audience, truly some of the best.” As Koo surveyed the crowd, he caught the glinting eyes of Runty, Psy, and Ashes. His smile broadened as he continued.
“We came here on this Fusumbre night, to remember those tricky three. The royal blood, whose knowledge and reason prevailed that fateful night. The beast of the woods, who guarded the royalty with honor and grace. And the hauntingly beautiful witch, with one heck of a way with magic, let me tell you.” His eyes glinted in the stage lights, still floating around the stage, emanating from spots where gourds once floated with them, now burned or melted away from the acts.
“These three were foolish, naive, and wow were they dumb.” The crowd chuckled at this, all except for three in the back. Koo winked, and continued, “but brave enough to fight the night king and his court. They managed to do the…well the fairly easy if you think about it, but who are we to judge. The point is,” Koo raised his hands to the audience. “These three did something with their lives, and now we are here to celebrate them. Go forth from tonight and follow their examples. Life is short, and death is inevitable. Do what you think is right, and never wait for someone to do it for you. Cause you have to live your life not as a whimper,” Koo paused, feigning consideration for the last part of his line.
With a snap of his fingers, he added, “but as a marvelous bang.”
Above the crowd, a violent maelstrom of fire erupted, blanketing the sky over the whole kingdom in a chaotic storm of flashes and crackles. Clouds of magical fire shimmered from the storm, swirling with tendrils of plasma and the glow of magic. From these, orbs of pink and green gracefully floated down, as if raindrops from the heavens. In the fiery backdrop, only few could see the faint silver lines etched across the droplets. In a crack of lightning within the storm, the droplets suddenly divided, seeming to implode. In their place, brilliant flowers of light radiated over the marketplace, sizzling the air, which now smelt of seaside flowers.
The crowd looked upward in awe and delight. The myriad of colors washed over them, as the sounds of clashing magic and sizzling atmosphere muted them to the approach of the performers from behind the stage.
From the center of the crowd, Caelum and Gigi stared up to the sky, as Lily, now on Caelum’s furry shoulders, sat, eyes wide and absorbing as much of the scene as she could. The little girl, still dressed as the princess of the tale, shook in excitement at each new form and color she saw. Caelum, considering the acts performed and what magic they might have employed, stared up in fascination, attempting to analyze the fires as they silently drifted down.
From the rear of the crowd, Nilya watched with deep interest, resting her head against Sophia’s shoulder, as she covered her exposed vexish ear from the echoing rumbles and cracks. Her tails danced silently behind her, as she nuzzled closer to her friend. A silent thank you was uttered by the kitsune, as the two continued to stare ahead.
Back on the stage, the performers lined up beside Koo, who tapped the bobble still settled on his side. In a flash of green that was unnoticed by the crowd amongst the rainbow above them, Shade materialized and stretched, looking toward the crowd with wide, joyous eyes.
“Thank you all for joining me and my wonderful troupe,” Koo yelled, his voice clearly overcoming the din above them all. “And a happy Fusumbre to you all!”
With this, the line of people on the stage bowed, as the crowd turned their attention to them. As they bowed, it was the audience's turn to overcome the noise of the fireworks, as they cheered and applauded the troupe for a tremendous show.
The noise of the crowd talking as the show concluded rivaled that if the show itself; beings of the kingdom of all ages, elemental affinities, and walks of life turned in excitement from the shows acts. The air was electric with the murmur of the crowd, of the favorite acts and favorite performers, of the remainder of the festival and the reopening of the merchant stalls. Such stalls, positioned on the outer ring of the marketplace, offered ample opportunities for new buyers, those filled with the mirth of the evening’s festivities and seeking a refreshment or trinket to top off the night.
In the shuffle of the crowd, a small glint of white fluttered overhead. In the creature's mouth, the remains of a candied apple stick remained firmly set, bitten and chewed through by the creature’s Dracloud teeth. Below the fluttering Talos, the somewhat towering stack of Caelum and Lily marched forward, attempting to enjoy themselves while seeking exit from the crowded area.
Caelum looked around, seeking a break in the crowd of people. Lily, more excited than ever, continued to speak rapidly, energetically listing what shapes and forms appeared in the fireworks display. By the time she reached “that one looked like the stralon Celeste rides, but with wings and tamia’s tail”, Caelum spotted a section away from the crowds, leading away from the rest of the marketplace and toward the gardens. The perfect spot to avoid the chaos and avoid the stall operators and their “last minute sales”. Looking up at his passenger, still firmly set on his shoulders, he grimaced.
The last thing Lily needs, Caelum thought, is the promise of more toys or candy this late. And, Caelum smiled to himself as he considered the alternative. Given her current mood, she will definitely convince me for even more. Her father would not be happy with me then.
“Talos!” Caelum cried out in the rabble around him. Despite his elevation and surrounding din, Talos heard his guardian and turned to face the man. Pointing toward the opening, Caelum yelled, “this way!” With a puff of smoke, Talos squeaked and flapped his wings, gliding toward their desired exit.
As the three reached the designated area, the surrounding noise quieted to a somewhat distant murmur. The crowds continued their conversations and debates, their arguments and laughter, as the drifted back toward the waiting stalls. As the voices quieted, Caelum sighed and laughed.
“Okay Lily,” Caelum grabbed Lily and lowered her to the ground in front of him, careful to set her down without messing up her dress. “Now that we’ve gotten away from all of that, how did you enjoy the show?”
Lily’s eyes sparkled as she beamed at Caelum. “It was AMAZING Caelum! The booms! The pows! The pretty dresses! And the colors! Can we go and see it again?”
“Next year,” Caelum ruffled the young girl's wig with his pawed hand. “Definitely. And maybe we can get stuffy Celeste to join us.”
At this, Lily giggled and nodded. “No more stuffiness! More fun with Celeste!”
Enjoying the rhyme, Caelum chuckled and took the girl’s hand. “Come on, let’s get you back to your daddy. I’m sure he’ll love to see your offerings.” Lily nodded, and began walking, leading Caelum forward into the gardens, back toward the castle.
As the two walked, Caelum listened to the evening sounds around them. Chittering tamia scurried in the brush, as the flutter of Umbral blights mixed with the wind. While the festival was still ongoing behind them, Caelum couldn’t hear the voices of anyone in the marketplace.
But he heard the voices of two women coming up the path ahead of them.
As the four approached each other, it was Lily that dragged Caelum ahead, greeting the two strangers with a warm smile and “Happy Fuh-sember!”. Before the two could respond, the energetic girl thrusted her gloved free hand before her.
“Offerings or Ordeals, mow-talls!” The young girl demanded, appearing as fierce as a child could in a Princess costume. The woman on the left, appearing to wear a kitsune costume, appeared shocked by the sudden demand, and Caelum could see her lavender eyes widen in fear. The woman on the left, in basic, not very lore accurate witches costume, simply smiled and nodded at Lily.
“Of course! Here you go, sweetie.” The witch reached into her bag, pulling out a handful of what appeared to be chocolates. Placing the wrapped goodies into the outstretched glove, the witch smiled at Lily, who in turn smiled back in thanks.
“Thank you for that,” Caelum nodded and extended a paw. “My name is Caelum, and happy Fusumbre to you both.”
“Caelum? Is your sister Celeste, by chance?” The witch shook his paw, her gentle touch sending a shiver up Caelum’s arm at the sound of his sister’s name.
“She is…do you know her?”
The witch clapped at this. “Oh I thought so. The resemblance is definitely there, even with all of the make up. I think it’s the eyes.” She smiled at Caelum, and gave a slight bow. “My name is Sophia, and this is my friend Nilya. My friends and I ran into Celeste during an outing to the Threshissmin Castle a few weeks ago.”
“Sophia!” Caelum recalled his previous talks with Celeste, and remembered that particular adventure quite well. It was, after all, his request for research that sent her to those haunted halls. “So you’re the kind-hearted aeromage who helped her!”
“The very same,” Sophia nodded. “Though it was a group effort, to say the least. Is she not out tonight?”
“Nope. She said the whole idea of being in costumes was too ‘childish’”. Caelum shook his head. “Yet here I stand before two adults in costume. Three, if you count me! She’s just not one for fun, sometimes.”
“If I remember her correctly, she definitely is more serious. She is like a mirror to my other companion Jayce. Especially when a mission is on.”
The two laughed at this, and Caelum shifted his gaze to the third adult on the path, Nilya. The woman stood stiffly in the moonlight, which caused the purples of her cape to shimmer. But it was the ears and tail on the woman that kept Caelum’s gaze.
“If I may be so bold, did you make this kitsune costume? It’s beautifully made and so accurate to the old legends!” Caelum took a step forward, pointing at each part as he spoke. “The ears are so lifelike and fuzzy! The tails seem so polished and free of debris, very expertly done! And the hairs themselves! Like silver moonlight! You must tell me where you got your materials!”
Nilya stood still, as if a statue, as Caelum pointed to her body parts. The lack of movement aided to Caelum’s belief in her being in costume, as the normally twitching tails and flicking ears refused to budge.
Sophia, sensing her friend’s discomfort, smiled at Caelum. “She’s shy, but is proud of the work she did with her…costume.” Sophia lowered her hand and grabbed Nilya’s own. A chill emitted from the kitsune’s palm, as if it were enveloped in ice. As Sophia gripped her hand, Nilya seemed to relax, and the frozen hand warmed to a cool chill.
“Th…thank you,” Nilya said, blushing at Caelum. “It’s…it’s very special to me.”
Caelum nodded and smiled. “It would be special to me too! It’s just an amazing outfit! I would love to know more about how you made your tails!”
Before Nilya could mumble an answer, Sophia stepped forward. “We can discuss this in due time. But for now, we must be on our way. That show really drained us, and the noise and lights aren’t really our thing.” With a bow to the two others, she added, “it was a pleasure to finally meet you, Caelum. And a pleasure to honor you, my little princess.”
Caelum bowed in response, as did Lily, who’s wig flipped off when she did this. Nilya, still blushing and stiff, nodded slightly, and mumbled a “good night” as they passed.
As the ladies walked away on the path, Caelum took Lily’s hand and started forward. As they walked, the image of the kitsune outfit flashed in his mind, as he tried to figure out what materials she used for each part.
“Maybe it was Llurega silk…only way to explain how it shined like that…but maybe a sylvan vixish’s fur for the…no, couldn’t be…” Caelum mumbled to himself, half focused on the path as he swirled about in his thoughts.
“Caelum!” Lily piped up from beside him, squeezing his hand to get his attention. Above them, Talos leapt from overhanging branches, causing hiding creatures to scurry in fear.
Caelum looked down at the young girl. “What is it? Do you need to get on my shoulders again?”
The little girl shook her head, her golden braid flipping back and forth. “That was a real vixish lady, wasn’t it?”
Caelum smiled and shook his head. “It can’t be silly. Those ‘vixish ladies’ are from stories. They’re not real. Or at least not anymore.”
Lily stopped walking and shook her head fiercely. “No. She was a real vixish lady. I saw her tails and ears move! And her tails was much more real than yours! She was a real vixish lady!”
Caelum looked at her and then back down the path. At this point, the trail behind them was empty, save for the rustling leaves from Talos’ hunting. The two women from before were nowhere to be seen.
“Maybe they were, and maybe she is…” Caelum whispered, thinking back to the books on kitsune in the Catacombs. As he began to sink back into his thoughts, Lily squeeze his hand again and dragged him forward.
“Come on servent puppy!” Lily giggled. “I want to show daddy my offerings!”
Breaking from his trance again, Caelum nodded. “Yes, my Jademistress. Lead the way to the royal daddy.”
The two continued forward, as Talos followed behind, a trail of chitters and falling leaves following the trio on their journey home.
The door for the room slammed open, as a tired Caelum entered the bedroom, head down with exhaustion. Through his costumed legs, an excited Talos scampered in with a happy squeal. The source of the Dracloud’s joy turned from her conversation, and lit up the room with her smile.
“Lily is back with her dad,” Caelum shifted forward toward his cot, not looking up as his fake ears dropped over his forehead. “I don’t know why, but I’ve just hit the wall from tonight. I think…”
Before he could finish, Caelum looked up toward his sister and froze. Standing across the room, the figure of his sister was not as she was when he left her earlier that evening. The outfit Celeste was wearing was not the light armor, cape, and headpiece that Caelum had seen her in hours prior.
No, before him stood what he would best describe as a lore accurate depiction of the legendary Witch; a towering and billowing pointed hat, resting on the familiar blue locks of his twin. Etched from black and orange fabric spread bat-like wings, leading farther down to golden webs connecting to a festive skirt.
A pair of gloves hands raised themselves in protest at this, as Caelum straightened himself from his drowsy posture, now awake from the shock of the reveal.
“Cay, I…well…” Celeste stumbled on her words, face reddening around her orange eyeliner. Before he could take advantage of the pause, she continued.
“It wasn’t my idea to put this on, I swear! Though,” she smiled as she lowered her arms and relaxed. “I must say I do make a great witch.”
Caelum, regaining his senses from the shock of the reveal, broke into a wide smile and laughed. “One of the best witch costumes I’ve seen all night! But,” he shrugged, shaking his head, hiding a smirk. “I guess this means you’re childish for dressing up.”
Stepping toward her, Caelum placed a pawed hand on her shoulder and smiled. “Well, welcome to the kids club, sis.” At this, Celeste smiled and nodded.
Talos, who had ran in previously and full of energy, let out a gentle purr that seemed to vibrate the air. Looking over, the two saw the Dracloud curled up on a pile of candies and treats, with a fresh candied apple at the peak of the hoard. As the beast gently snored and purred, wisps of smoke swirled out of the window, becoming silver webs in Clemmedeus’ light.
“Where did you get that? And who convinced you to dress up, when even I and my very professional Adolwolf costume couldn’t?” Caelum sat on his cot, petting the outstretched Asher, his pale hand exposed with the pawed gloves now removed.
“Augustus, actually.” Celeste smiled and leaned against the stone wall. A cool breeze flowed through the open window, causing her to shiver slightly. “They brought it as an offering for Talos, expecting they would need to fight him off for a moment of my time.” She laughed at this, and Caelum joined her.
“Please tell me they were their usual extra self.” Caelum leaned forward. “Their speeches alone make any news of theirs worth it.”
“I’ll have you know they were very serious tonight,” Celeste sighed. “Until they weren’t. But it almost lasted five minutes! So that’s improvement.”
Relaxing on the cot, Caelum leaned back. “Are they still referring to themselves as Augur? Really? Isn’t that bit…much?”
“If it’s not that, it’s their love for theatrics,” Celeste nodded. “Augustus, or Augur as they like as a nickname, really knows how to captivate the masses with his tongue.”
“Too bad we’re not the masses.”
“Indeed. Though,” Celeste straightened herself and looked seriously at Caelum. “They warned me of something happening in the south. They heard rumors of something… foul in the sands.” At this, her eyes darkened, their golden spark dimmed to a hard amber. “They said it might be the work of a necromancer, if the missing bodies and patterns are to be believed.”
Caelum stretched, hands now free of his pawed gloves, as his fingers cracked. He rested his head on the pillow and smirked. “Necromancers and bodies, huh? They sure know how to make things extra Fusumbre, don’t they?”
“Caelum, this is serious.”
“Oh, I know sis. But,” Caelum rolled over and smiled sleepily. “That’s a serious thing to look further into tomorrow. For now, let’s follow these two’s example and get some rest.”
Celeste smiled softly and nodded. “Get your rest brother. I think I might enjoy the festivities for a little longer. And thank you for taking care of Talos.”
She waited for an answer, but only heard a soft snore escape her brother’s lips. Realizing the fool had fallen asleep, Celeste snapped her fingers. The orbs that floated above the room dimmed to the faint glow of starlight, filling the room with an evening time shade.
Grabbing her blade and a satchel of supplies, Celeste quietly left the room, careful to close the door silently on her departure.
No, Celeste thought, this would not be a tomorrow problem. As she continued down the path to the Catacombs, she could hear the distant cracks and booms of fireworks across the kingdom. The festival was still going on, even if the big show was finished.
If what Augustus said is true, the time for festivals might be coming to an end.
Celeste shook the thought off. No, that won’t happen. Not while Cay and I are here.
And with that, Celeste continued down the halls, her stride causing echoing footsteps to slowly fade into the distance. Soon the halls were quiet again, save for the distant celebrations beyond the castle walls.