This Year Again, We Meet at the Round Table
-Fior Deniev, 9 Years Old-
Ugh. It’s stuffy. I’m lost. I’m hungry.
Before I had realized it, I had been sucked into a crowd of robe-wearing festival-goers. I felt suffocated by the hot summer air – these were temperatures that I had never experienced, and the body heat of the crowd surrounding me made it worse. In the Deniev Empire, it was chilly all year round. Even in the fleeting summer, it was cold enough that fur coats were a necessity. Of course, I wasn’t wearing a fur coat – my parents made me wear something thin called a “tank-top” before we crossed through – but it was stiflingly hot nonetheless.
I struggled to escape from the crowd, my child’s body rendering me powerless against the prison of legs surrounding me. The collective swept me up and pushed me forward, further and further away from where I was waiting for my father to finish bargaining with the pawn shop owner for this world’s currency. Our empire used metal tokens stamped with my great-grandfather’s likeness as a medium of exchange, but the pawn shop owner didn't seem to assign much value to our coins. “Poor quality nickel”, he had to say about our coins, which drew the anger of my father, a man with too much pride.
All of a sudden, the crowd spit me out. I felt the pressure to my left begin to thin out as people fanned out in various directions. Somehow, I had been carried from the pawn shop to the entrance of the festival. Watching people pass by me holding trays of small dough balls and candied fruit on a stick, my hunger was piqued.
I could smell something fragrant in the air – a savory smell that did not resemble anything from the Empire’s cuisine. The smell was unlike fish, bread, quail, or egg, the ingredients most often found at the tables of the commoners, nor was it like the fragrance of any of the spices or meats available to the nobility.
Beginning to salivate, I rummaged in the pockets of my unfamiliar, short-sleeved clothing, hoping to find anything that I might be able to exchange for food with the help of a shopkeeper’s pity for a lost child. To my dismay, I found nothing. I could’ve sworn that I had pocketed some coins before I crossed through the other-world door into the building labeled “108”.
I continued to wander around the festival grounds, following the general direction of the crowds. Everything was foreign to me – festivals back home were full of loud roaring, the smell of beer, and thick cuts of meat. There would always be a wrestling match in the town square between the drunk men, and the cheering would increase to deafening volumes whenever one man was thrown to the ground – or so I was told. As the heir to the imperial family, I wasn’t allowed to leave the castle to participate in the festivals of the commoners, instead learning about the people through a friend of mine, Pyotr, whose lower-nobility parents were less restrictive of where he could go.
I’m so hungry.
The aroma of the food around me was seriously starting to take its toll on me, and I stopped walking.
Where is Father? How do I get back to the door? Is this how I die, starving in another world?
I’m so hungry. I’m alone.
My vision began to blur, and I slumped to the ground. I could feel my heart beginning to beat faster, as if it were going to break out of my chest, and I suddenly couldn’t breathe. I felt the urge to cry – and so I did. I sat there and cried.
I’m lost. How do I get home? If the door is open only once a year, I’m stuck here, aren’t I? What can I do, as a 9-year-old? How do I get back to the pawn shop? If I get back to the pawn shop, and Father went looking for me, will I be unable to find him? Is this how it ends? Me, a member of the imperial fa-
“Are you okay?”
“Breathe deeply!” a voice rang out, and I felt a warm hand touch my back.
I nodded in response to this person that I couldn’t see and began drawing difficult, strained breaths.
Breathe in, breathe out. In, Out. In. Out.
My rapidly beating heart started to slow, and my vision started to return. I rubbed the warm tears out of my eyes and looked up.
To my left side was a boy no older – no, younger than me, with a pair of metal goggles over his wild, reddish-brown hair. He wore a strange outfit, unlike the clothing of this country or mine – a sort of brown cloth vest on top of a normal white shirt.
Behind him was a girl of about the same age with blond hair, wearing clothing resembling that of one of the Deniev Empire’s enemies in the ongoing war, Ingramt. She wore a green dress, the ones with the puffy shoulder sleeves, decorated with pink flower print.
Before I could ask if she was from the Kingdom of Ingramt, the red-haired boy thrust one of the candied-fruit-on-a-stick that I had seen earlier into my hand.
“Daddy always says after crying, you need to eat sugar!”, he exclaimed.
Silently, I bit down on the offering and nodded.
It’s so sweet.
The girl, glancing around now that I had stopped crying, pointed at the stall that I had my back to.
“What a weird mask!”
I turned around to look and saw an especially peculiar mask hanging on a rack of other masks. It was metallic and grey, with two large yellow eyes, and a fin running through the center of the face up to the top of the mask.
“… It is weird”, I whispered.
The red-haired boy heard me and promptly began to shout.
“It’s not weird! We have those things back at home too, you know? Big, big, BIG robots! They help build things, and they guard the castle, and they-”
-Fior Deniev, 17 Years Old-
That’s all I remember of my first meeting with Alistair and Vell. What an innocent time, when we were still free of understanding the problems that loomed over our kingdoms. At the time, I had a suspicion, but I hadn’t confirmed it yet – a suspicion that they too, weren’t from “Japan”.
I wish I could go back in time to then.
So I could undo my mistake that led to all this.