~Chapter III: Festival Prep Fright Part II~
As the day went on, Maeveren became more and more antsy. He had been asked to sit behind the counter as the hours went by, Merlinus' reason being that he doesn't want Meaveren yapping away and sewing discord with odd questions, much to Maeveren's chagrin.
A few customers came in over this time, all in their own get-up, though a few here and there were so peculiar he began to navel gaze about the possibilities of what he's found himself in. Some customers were short men and women-so short they only come up to the average person's ankles, and struggled to get on top of the stools. A few others merely looked like humans that are large in build, but they are clad in furs and chain mail and weaponry. Each customer that came in over the hours gave Maeveren a few glances as they drank, but none seemed hostile towards the boy. While at first, Merlinus' insistance that he keep quiet and stay behind the counter annoyed him, he now feels that it gave him adequate time to assess the situation a bit more.
"We learned about other planes of existance...but they're usually beyond portals, and are guarded by Thaumaturges...and very few can jump planes. There's no way...and yet...no, let's be rational, Maeveren."
"E-excuse me, Mr.Merlinus? I have to thank you for your hospitality. It means a lot to me-but...um...how much longer is it until night falls?"
"Ohohoho! Getting antsy? I don't blame you-you're young. But wait just a little longer. Give it one more hour, and you'll see. Until then, I'll give you something to eat too. I bet you're famished after traveling here from wherever you came from. Let's see...my inn has a specialty the Wus up on that northern hill can't beat-and that's my Santenica Spectacular-a well-seasoned rice bowl with a stew on top of it. You'll love it-it singlehandedly keeps my inn in business, hohohoho!"
"...O-okay. Thank you."
"I didn't even notice I was hungry...Niilas always told me I was bad at that kind of thing. Ugh."
Merlinus goes into one of the two doors behind the counter. When he opens the door, steam came wafting out, which smells like well-seasoned meat. Inside, Maeveren can hear the delicate clicking of plates, the clanking of metal on metal, and a sloppy, wet noise, which made him sigh from how horrible it sounded. After only five minutes or so, Merlinus steps from out of the door, two bowls in his hands. The door behind him shuts by itself. Maeveren looks in awe, and in turn, Merlinus laughs.
"Let's eat before you go. You'll need a full stomach for what you're about to see."
"Ehehehehe! Food got you a little woozy, lad? Well, it's time to rise and shine! Night is about to fall, and the festival is about to start proper."
As if on command, Maeveren jolts awake. Merlinus laughs and starts walking to the inn's doors. On the other side, Maeveren could hear fireworks and chatter. Somehow, the room feels different-the air felt thick, as if laced with a gas he can't identify.
"The air...feels oppressive. What is this power?"
Maeveren shakes his head and walks to the door after the old man, careful to not step on his beard as it dragged on the floor after the old man. Merlinus then turns to him, and gives him a few coins and bills.
The bills come in incriments of four, though a few 10s and 20s are in the mix as well. On the four bills, an intricate drawing of four people surrounded by multi-colored diamonds is depicted. Each are hooded except one, who wears a warrior's regalia and has long, flowing, wavy hair. As the bill is a grey- white and the sketch is in black linework, none of them were colored in, but immediately, Maeveren knew what he is looking at.
"...Diamants. In an ancient city, before the Founder's time...no...but how....?"
"Ehehehe! Have fun, lad."
"He knows something I don't. Grrrr...he's teasing me!"
Merlinus opens the door to the cul-de-sac, which is a little more populated now. Not wanting to come off as cowardly, Maeveren walks out of the door swiftly while looking straight ahead.
"Remember where the inn is, lad-it'll help you navigate the Wu district better, and...how about I let you stay for the night when you're done?"
Maeveren faces the old man, giving him a confused expression.
"...You'd let me stay without work or some other kind of deal?"
"...For now, what's important is that you have shelter during your stay. My inn is empty, you came here with nothing, I'm bored, and I might as well help you out. Now go-see the city with unclouded eyes."
Maeveren nods slowly in response to that, his face still scrunched with confusion. Merlinus smiles and closes the door.
Nighttime in the city leaves Maeveren in awe, so much so that again he stops to observe everything. Though it isnt' too dark yet, the lanterns set the sky and buildings alight, and the now what Maeveren recongnizes as Lihuanese writing on some of the buildings glow a bold gold color. The red light of the lanterns and gold light of the characters written into the buildings bleed onto their surroundings, making the ground and walls of the city glisten as the sun sets.
"This is beautiful...maybe I should just enjoy myself, and the answers will come later. I could ask around, but that would be rude. I don't want to pester people..."
Once again, for the second time today, he aimlessly he walks around the large district he finds himself in. As he does so, lights flicker on, the streets get louder and louder as people pour out from the large building in the distance, and stalls, modern fair games, and bands begin to take over the sidewalks. Maeveren notices that now, most people that wore the capes he recognized from the morning crowd went to the inn to the north and now wore their hoods down, but as they were all in the distance, he couldn't make out their costumes very well.
"I'm already getting overwhelmed. What do I do first? I already ate...maybe there's a game somewhere? Ugh, I'm horrible at things like this..."
"Hey!" a chipper, young, feminine voice calls from above.
"...Huh? More voices!?"
Maeveren looks up and sees nothing. He sucks his teeth and taps his foot impatiently.
"Tee hee hee! Up here! On top of the bakery!"
On top of a shorter building, a little girl waves at him. Her hair is a pitch black and in a pony tail, and she wore some kind of traditional clothing. It was a dress of some kind, the sleeves being very long, though she had them tied back. It is red in color, with depictions of nature stitched into it. Maeveren rolls his eyes, as so many people are in front of the bakery that he didn't see the store front or sign-a stall for food replaced it, ran by an exceptionally wrinkly old man that cooked some kind of fried food with the speed of a young cook.
"A-ah, yes, hello," Maeveren says, still gawking at the old man from afar and half paying attention to the girl.
The little girl jumps off of the building with little effort, which snaps Maeveren's attention back to her completely. She approaches him with a wide smile on her face. As she came closer, Maeaveren noticed her yellow beast-like pupils.
"You smell funny. I smelled you all from fireworks watching spot."
"Is that so. Well, I shower daily, unless I get too sucked into-"
"Wait-someone has approached me first! I can ask questions before things start really getting going."
"Actually...I have a question. I'm...in Santenica, right?"
"Yeah. Did you get lost?"
"No, it's just that...well, it used to be a big ancient city, and...ahem, well, I didn't expect...this."
"...Huh? That's weird. What else did you think would be here? Santenica is famous for being a fun place, even I know that and I'm only a hundred! I'm here with my family. We're celebrating my human form. I asked to come here for my hundredth birthday!"
"Argh, how is it weird to not know it was All Hollow's Eve in the ruin today!? This must be a Thaumaturge thing-roleplaying as monsters and pretending to live in a city for a day. They do things like that...I think."
"I see. I'm here alone. Anyway, about the costumes...are they for the-"
"I want to play until my family comes. I don't wanna talk about boring adult stuff. You look young, but you talk like my mama and papa!"
"...Well, she's pretty blunt, isn't she? ...Maybe I should indulge her a bit-my head is starting to hurt, and I don't think she can answer anything other than what I've already observed."
"Fine. We'll play."
"Yay! We're gonna play tag. Can you jump really high?"
"Um, my shoes don't have a jumping or flying sigil, but...I can try."
"Okay! Give me one sec. Close your eyes."
Maeveren rolls his eyes and covers his eyes with his hands.
"What is she doing, I wonder?"
"Ok! Open 'em!"
Before him, a large fox the size of a medium sized dog with the usual orange fur stands. He stares at it, puzzled.
"Um...where did she...that's...a huge fox. How is it so big?"
The fox cackles. The same young voice he'd been hearing for the past few minutes came from it's mouth, catching Maeveren off guard.
"You really are weird. I'm right here! I switched forms so we can play. Do you have another form? You need to switch before we can start."
"Are you okay? You're starting to look pale."
"Yeah! I made a pretty human form now that I'm a hundred, but I like playing as a fox more! C'mon, shift! At night we're allowed to, hee hee!"
The sky turns darker and darker by the minute. The lights of the city intensify, and the air becomes thick with a power he can't describe, making his breathing a little unsteady. One by one, the people on the street begin to morph into even stranger forms, striking fear into Maeveren.
"I-is...no. Are you all...have I...?"
"Ohhhh, I see! You've spent too much time in the human world, haven't you? That's why you smell funny and can't change forms. Sorry...I didn't mean to be so mean about what you didn't know. Mama says I have to be nice to spirits that haven't found their powers yet."
"What are you on about!?"
"Oh...I hurt your feelings...mama is gonna me mad with me. I thought we could be friends, but I messed up. I guess you don't wanna play tag anymore."
"No, it isn't-"
With that, the fox turns back into a little girl, and again, with ease, she jumps on top of the bakery ahead. She faces away from where Maeveren is standing, though she snuck a few glances at him every now and then, showing a bit of concern. The paler Maeveren got, the more her own form changed shape, her ears and lone tail popping out when Maeveren began to tremble.
"Oh my god. She's a fox spirit. There's no doubt about that. Then..."
As the sky turns from sunset to darkness, more and more people take on new shapes. Shapes that he recognizes little by little. Frantically, he dips into an alleyway nearby and opens his tome, flips to the "Creatures" section and flips through as he looks out at the street.
"...Ogres...nature sprites...giants...I've read about them all, but here they are before me."
As the "people" walked to and fro on the street beyond the small, cramped alleyway, Maeveren fell to his knees.
"I...I'm in a monster's den. I...no. Surely there's a way out...I j-just...I have to go back from where I came from."
With that, Maeveren jumps to his feet. As if on autopilot, he runs south, where he believes the double doors are, pushing through the festival goers. The streets become a blur as he runs as fast as he could, but his mind and heart are as clear as day, focusing only on the safety of his own world.