Chapter 17:

Chapter 17: Festival Preparations (Blake)

Soulbonded Wings

Blake looked out the window at the night sky. The city of Starstorm below the palace was aglow with light in the distance.

It was the night of the Unification Festival. The sun had set, and that meant the streets were no-doubt bustling with activity, citizens of Saekoria having traveled from islands all across the sky to celebrate the national holiday of togetherness. And where was Blake, in all this? Watching from the window.

He heard the rustle of the cage behind him; the dragons could sense his restlessness, and they clearly felt the same.

A knock on the door drew his attention away from the festival, and he turned to greet his guest. No doubt it was the Reed, coming to take him to the meeting place, or perhaps the prince himself had come. Whoever it was, Blake wasn’t looking forward to seeing them.

When he saw that it was Fie, he was caught by surprise. What was she doing there? The maid stared at him with those piercing eyes of hers, and not a single word escaped her lips. Blake wilted under her gaze.

“What is it, head maid?” He asked. “I’m leaving to go to the Unification Festival in a matter of minutes.”

“Forgive the intrusion, m’lord, but that is precisely why I am here,” Fie replied. “It is my duty to escort you to the festival this evening, on order of the queen herself.”

Blake was taken aback by that. The queen had sent Fie to escort him? That was such a strange revelation he wasn’t sure how to respond.

“Um… well, alright,” he said, nodding. “So… escort away then.”

“Yes, m’lord,” Fie said, nodding again. She glanced down, looking away from his eyes and at his clothes. “But first, is that what you intend to wear this evening?”

Blake’s expression soured. How dare she ask that? Certainly, he was only wearing a casual tunic, layered for the winter chill, but it was perfectly respectable. It wasn’t like he could wear a Calode.

It was tradition, for Unification Day, for people to wear Calodes. Bright robes of white cotton dyed in countless colorful patterns, they symbolized the colorful blending of all the different races and people of the Unification. The sky may no longer have been united, but the tradition remained, one of the few things shared between peasant and noble. While the nobles would dye their robes in the colors of their houses, the peasantry would tend to use the colors of a house they were subservient too, or failing that, any color that they chose.

Blake had worn one, once, when he was a child. Hand-sewn by his mother and given as a gift to him on Unification Eve, as was tradition. It had no-doubt burned to ash, with the rest of his childhood, in the fires of Silverscale. He had never worn one since.

So for Fie to be asking him about his wardrobe stung a great deal, and he had to resist the overwhelming urge to curse her out. As enraged as he was by her cold words, he knew that he needed to keep his anger in check.

This was Fie. Fiona. He wouldn’t blow up at her.

“This is all I have,” he managed to growl out without getting too upset. Fie considered this in silence, and then nodded her head.

“Understood,” she said. “As anticipated. Then allow me to gift this to you, m’lord, in celebration of the Unification Festival.”

It was only then that Blake took notice of the parcel in her hands. She relinquished it to him and he tore it open, and to his surprise he saw that it contained a Calode, so similar to the one he’d had as a child he almost thought that it was. Blake could see streaks of silver flashing across the white cloth, blending with the surface in a shimmering color that was highlighted by the starbursts of red covering it like blasts of flame from a dragon’s jaw. The colors of House Harker glowed brightly in the light of the orica, so magnificent they took his breath away.

Shocked, Blake looked up at Fie, his eyes filled with questions.

“It is simply expected of a maid to provide those she serves with whatever he may need for the evening, be that fine dining or fine garments,” Fie answered automatically.

Blake unfolded the Calode, and could tell without even trying it on that it would fit him perfectly. He quickly moved across the room to the changing area, pulling off the drab tunic he had worn and slipping on the soft cotton robe. Tying the sash, he stared at himself in the mirror, and felt himself standing just a little taller. It was perfect. Wearing it… he felt soft and warm, like he was being wrapped in a hug. It reminded him of home, of…

Blake pushed those thoughts away. Fleeting memories were too painful to try to grasp at this point. He pulled the screen back and stepped out, looking at Fie with a heaviness in his heart. “How… How did you measure it so precisely?” He asked quietly.

Fie’s face didn’t change, but could see softness creep into her eyes, confirming what he had suspected. This wasn’t something she had gone out to buy for him, or even a work she’d commissioned. She had sewn it by hand, just as his mother had all those years before. And likely even dyed it herself, as well.

“Such things are simply expected of a maid,” Fie answered. The smallest of smiles crossed her lips. “If you permit me to say, m’lord, you certainly look quite dashing.”

Blake felt his face heat up and he puffed out his chest, confidence swelling in his breast. “Thank you,” he said. He glanced at the dragons, still moving about restlessly in their cages. He turned back to Fie. “Really, thank you. Thank you for this. And if it’s no trouble… can you do me one more favor, head maid?”

“It would be my honor, m’lord,” Fie said, lowering her head in a nod.

Blake had expected the meeting place for the group to be somewhere a little fancier than the entryway to the servant’s quarters. After all, Lancelus would be joining them on their trip through the festival, and to think that a prince would be waiting with the servants brought a smile to Blake’s lips.

When he saw the likely reason behind it, however, the smile fell off of his face.

Lancelus and Elly waited in the hall, and they couldn’t look any more different. Lancelus wore a Calode of his own, bright ivory with a golden pattern streaking across it like lightning through the sky. Wisps of blue danced with the lightning for a lovely combination, so pristine that Blake wondered if it had been bought from a store.

Elly, on the other hand, wore a simple plain tunic not much different than the one Blake had worn, except somehow looking even cheaper and more threadbare. She was shivering a little, even though she was bundled up tight for the winter, even bringing out her old hood. Blake was seriously concerned about what would happen when they actually headed outside.

“Blake!” Elly said brightly, running over to him. If she felt bad about being the reason they were meeting at the servant’s hall, she didn’t show it. Her face was red and her ears twitched from the cold, her little nose trembling. It reminded Blake of a shivering little kitten.

Elly glanced down. “You brought the dragons, too?”

Blake was pushing a cart he had borrowed from the castle, and the dragon’s cages were resting on them, in their carrying case. They were purring happily, and a few were napping.

“Yeah,” he said, looking down at them. He felt the smile returning to his lips. “I wanted to show them the festival.”

“Plus, this way they won’t get stolen,” Lancelus said. “Not that the Thunder Palace is dangerous, of course.” He gave Blake a look that was supposed to be a smile, but Blake didn’t feel the happiness. The prince’s thoughts were clearly somewhere else.

What upset him more was the fact that Lancelus seemed to think it was about keeping them safe. It wasn’t about that, not at all. He really wanted the dragons to see the festival. He remembered when his mother had taken him to see his first Unification Festival, all those years ago. The memories were distant and blurry, but they were precious.

The spicy-sweet taste of the dragon-glazed apple his mother had fed to him, and the smile she wore as she wiped the stains from his face.

The rush of the wind running across him, when his father hoisted him high onto his shoulders to watch the performance on the stage.

And the warmth of their hands, each nestled around one of his.

Blake wanted to share those feelings with his own children.

“Oh-Oh! You all are already here!” A slightly-loud, awkward exclamation sliced through Blake’s poignant nostalgia, and the smile fell from his face as those memories faded. He quickly forced one back on, though, faker than any of Reed’s many smiles, and turned to greet his guest.

Standing behind him, a wry grin spread shakily across her lips, was Ramona. She wore a Casode of House Emberly’s colors, streaks of light brown with splotches of the same reddish-purple color dyeing her hair, giving an appearance like flowers on a tree branch or something plain and natural like that. It suited her well, Blake thought. It was clear she had tried to brush her hair as best as she could for the evening, but the curls were already starting to fight their way back. She grasped at her hands, clearly not sure what to do.

Then, she looked past Blake and let out another gasp. “Oh! M-My prince, forgive me, I didn’t mean to… err, I mean… um…”

Blake had known Ramona for less than a week, but already her had grown to tolerate the awkward stammering and the way her eyes seemed to swim around in her head whenever she got nervous, which was often. She jerkily tried to force herself into a bow, but Lancelus held his hand up.

“You don’t need to worry about something like that,” Lancelus said, shaking his head. “Tonight, I’m not a prince. I’m just someone going to a festival.”

“…Okay…” Ramona said, relaxing a little. She glanced nervously at Blake, brushing her hair back slightly. Blake gave her as polite a smile as he could muster in return. “So, um… are we going to the festival, then, or… not that I’m trying to rush, it’s just…”

“She’s right, where’s our ride?” Rast snapped, turning the corner and greeting them. He was scowling, which wasn’t normal. Even more abnormal, though…

“Are you wearing… a skirt?” Blake asked, resisting the urge to burst out laughing. He supposed he wasn’t one to talk, as the long robes of a Calode weren’t exactly the boldest of outfits, but at least his legs were covered!

Rafe’s face turned crimson and his ears twitched, his tail standing on end. “It’s called a Feldur! These are traditional celebration garments from my village, and they aren’t something to make fun of!”

Blake understood that the Unification Festival was meant to be an event celebrating the cultures of the sky mingling together, and he also knew that if he was in Rafe’s furry boots he wouldn’t enjoy it if people mocked him. Rafe’s fur skirt and sleeveless top, decorated with malkin sigils, were a tradition of his people, and he shouldn’t make fun of them.

At the same time, it was a damn funny sight.

“Rafe’s right,” Lancelus said, and Blake could see that the prince was trying not to laugh himself, much to his malkin friend’s annoyance. He quickly regained his composure, his face turning serious as he looked around and asked, “where is Reed, anyway? If she’s not going to show up, then we’ll be in for a long trip to-“

As if the frustration and impatience of the group had finally reached a preset level, before Lancelus could even finish his sentence Blake felt the familiar pull of the air being twisted around him, the space tearing a portal open and Reed stepping out.

Blake was shocked. He was reminded of the night of the banquet, when he’d met Reed in her scarlet dress, and he’d found himself at a loss for words. While an annoyance on her best days, when she shut her mouth and put in effort she made for a rather pleasant companion, and it looked like tonight was that sort of night.

Reed wore a Calode as well, but unlike the others hers was void of color, which was quite unusual. While every Calode started out pristine, they were dyed a myriad of colors before put out for sale or given as gifts, to show the creativity and care of the artist. No two Calodes looked the same, but this one… it was a testament to Reed’s boldness that she didn’t look like a fool. She didn’t seem plain or boring wearing it. The soft garment was cinched to her waist by a wrap, clinging to her figure tightly, fitting like a hand-sewn glove. The snow-white of her Calode made her normally light hair seem a little more blonde, but perhaps that was a trick of the orica. What really stood out the most, though, were her eyes, so filled with countless colors their usual gray seemed faint. Her feather, usually worn behind her ear, was tucked away in her sash, the shimmering rainbow coloring the whole outfit. In its place a clip held a lock of her hair back, revealing a face as smiling as always.

“Sorry, I hope I’m not too late,” Reed greeted them with a wave. “Glad we could all make it!” She skipped over to the dragons and crouched down next to the cage, waving. “Hey sweeties, have you been good while mommy was away?”

Blake was shaken out of his shock at that, a scowl crossing his face. “You’re not their-“

“Shh!” Reed said, glancing up at him, holding her finger to her lips. She pointed at the ice-blue dragon. “She’s sleeping.”

Blake could feel his eye twitching.

Reed hopped back up and smiled, her eyes brighter than ever. “Hey, Blake! Nice Calode! You dye that yourself?”

“No, actually-“ Blake caught himself from mentioning the head maid just in time. Talking about Fie would have raised some questions he didn’t want to answer. “…I, um, got it earlier today,” he muttered.

“Cool, cool,” Reed said, her eyes skipping past him and landing on Ramona. “Oh, and you must be the fiancé! Heard about that! Reed Rivers, the sky’s foremost expert on dragons!”

Blake caught Elly’s eye and they shrugged. Neither REALLY believed that was the case, but it was hard to argue against.

Reed held out her hand to Ramona, but the other girl didn’t take it. Blake was surprised, Ramona looked almost… upset. He hadn’t seen her make a face like that before, it was like she was annoyed by the other girl.

…Well, it WAS Reed, so Blake wasn’t that surprised.

“I know who you are,” Ramona said quietly. “We’re in the same cohort.”

Now THAT was a surprise. Blake looked at Ramona, stunned. He knew that she went to the Rem Magic Academy like they did, and she was a third year like Reed, but he hadn’t for a minute thought that they’d known each other. He didn’t remember them letting on that they knew each other the other night, at the banquet.

Then again, Blake’s memory of that banquet was spotty at best, courtesy of the king’s wine. But one glance at Reed said that no, she didn’t really remember the other girl at all. Her face was twisted in a confused smile, her eyes dimming slightly, before she lit up.

“Oh! Ramona! I remember! You’re the one taking those special classes with Nurse Leilandry!” Reed said with a laugh, dropping her hand.

“…Yyyeeee-eeeeh-puh,” Ramona popped her lips, nodding. The air felt even colder. And of course, Reed couldn’t read the room at all.

“Well, I gotta say, you’ve landed yourself a good one!” Reed chipred, throwing an arm over Blake’s shoulder and pulling him into a side hug. “Blake here’s a great guy! …I mean, as long as you don’t mind playing second to his dragons, and I mean, come on, that’s just normal, right?” She laughed.

“Yeah, he’s… a good guy,” Ramona said, forcing a smile to her lips.

Lancelus cleared his throat. “Well, this is nice, but in case you forgot, we’re meeting with Josie and Est at the festival rather soon. So if you wouldn’t mind…”

“Right, right, sorry!” Reed laughed. She snapped her fingers, and a portal formed in the air behind her. With a hum, she stepped through it, Blake following after her with the others. But he was stopped by Ramona’s hand on his sleeve. She glanced warily at the portal, then back to Blake.

“Um… about tonight…?” She said, her voice sounding almost hopeful. She glanced at the portal again. Blake realized why she was so nervous.

“Don’t worry,” he laughed. “You might get a little nauseous, but it’s totally fine. There’s nothing to be worried about.”

Ramona blinked, her face twisting in confusion. “…No, no, I know that,” she said, shaking her head. “I just… well…” She was clearly trying to say something, but she was looking at Blake like she expected HIM to say something.

She sighed.

“What do you think of my Calode?” She asked, sighing in frustration.

“Huh?” Blake hadn’t expected a question like that. He blinked, giving it a second look. “It’s… nice, I guess?” Why was she asking him what he thought about her clothes?

“Okay… thanks,” Ramona said, giving him a smile that looked rather shaky.

“Dude, you blew it, how could you say something like that?” Rafe groaned, slapping his face with his hand. Lancelus suppressed a smirk. Est had met up with them, wearing a gray, green, and yellow Calode of his own. He didn’t have any reaction other than a smirk.

The boys were waiting at the fountain in one of the parks for Josie to show up. It wasn’t what Blake had expected for a festival. Sure, he could get the faintest scent of the delicious spices from his homeland, and could see the lanterns lit with colored flame burning in the distance. The sounds of the crowd mixed with song and instrument, but it was faint. Here, at the edge of the festivities, it was a rather poor imitation. He envied the girls, going off to enjoy the stands. He could see them from here, getting dragon glazed apples, Reed smiling and talking up a storm while Elly nodded along with her. Even Ramona seemed to get over whatever it was that had bothered her about Reed. They were having a blast.

And here he was, just watching it.

Against Blake’s better judgment, to clear some of the boredom, he had consulted with Rafe and Lancelus about the exchange from earlier. Ramona had seemed a little… put off after it and he wasn’t sure what he’d done wrong.

“Look, women are simple,” Rafe said. “She wanted you to compliment her! Tell her how beautiful she looks, stuff like that.”

Blake didn’t know Rafe all that well, but he knew enough to not trust the malkin’s claim that “women are simple” for a minute.

“Don’t listen to Rafe’s love advice, unless you feel like humping the furniture,” Lancelus said. Rafe shot him a dirty look.

“Look, I’ll show you how it’s done,” Rafe said. “I’ve got my eyes on quite a lovely target indeed…” His eyes were shining with a wicked gleam. He raised his finger and pointed at the girls.

Lancelus’s face darkened. “If you lay one hand on Elly-“

“Not her! No, no,” Rafe grumbled, waving his hand. “Her, Reed Rivers.”

Blake was shocked. Rafe was going to… try to get with Reed?

Rafe turned to Blake, a smug smile on his face. “You don’t mind, right? After all, you’ve got your fiancé and all.”

Oh, Rafe thought… OH.

Blake shook his head. “There’s nothing going on between me and Reed. If you want to go for it, I don’t care one bit.”

“That’s what I like to hear, you’re alright by me, Blake,” Rafe laughed, clapping him on the shoulder. “Wish me luck!”

His tail wagging excitedly, he ran to the girls.

“…I give him two minutes before he comes back with his tail between his legs,” Est commented when Rafe was out of earshot.

“Hey, come on, that’s not fair,” Lancelus laughed. “I give him five minutes, at least.”

One minute,” a sharp voice carried through the murmurs of the festival. Blake turned to see Josie Krost walking up to them. At least he thought it was her. He couldn’t be quite sure. Her black hair was brushed and shiny, and instead of her normal obnoxious grin she wore an expression like she’d sucked on a lemon. And her Calode…

Blake opened his mouth and her finger shot up, her eyes narrowing into a glare. “…NOT a word,” she snapped.

The patterns of Josie’s Calode spiraled in images of sky blue and soft pink, gentle and sweet like candy. It was the kind of thing he never would have imagined her wearing in a hundred years.

“Bad enough my folks are on my case about my grades, but then they force me into this stupid thing,” Josie grumbled, stomping past them. “Forget about this noise, I’m starving and I want to eat something greasy and horrible for me.”

Blake glanced at Lancelus and Est, who wore looks of exasperation.

“She’s always like this when her parents are on her case,” Est explained.

Josie shoved past Rafe, who was trudging back towards them with a glum look on his face, his ears drooping.

“She laughed! Flirting with her is like flirting with a wall! What even is that, saying ‘I’m already having fun right here, why would I want to go off somewhere?’ I don’t even think she knew I was propositioning her!” He grumbled.

Lancelus and Est burst out laughing. Blake could have laughed himself, but he didn’t. Those three were friends, after all, and he wasn’t exactly sure whether or not he should join in.

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