Seirin could swear if her mouth dropped to the floor she wouldn’t feel a single crack. The sight before her was just too unreal and disconcerting.
Her expression belied contradicting sympathy and disbelief on the dramatics unfolding before her and she didn’t know what to do, so she settled for just burying her face in her hands. Why was she here again?
“Sul tuo aaamoooooore infraaaaaaaaaantooooo!”
Oh right, she wanted to experience the Kafra Centenary Festival, which by its name, celebrates every 100 years the Kafra Corporation continuously existed, roughly to be believed the same year Aldebaran was founded. Sure, it was unsafe to be seen outside, but she wouldn’t miss this for the end of the world. She certainly never heard of such a shrill tenor though, but a part of her kind of expected it, considering the singer.
“Riiiiiidiiiiiiii del duuoool, che t’avveleeeeenaaaaaaa il cooooooor!”
Stray pieces of confetti blew just past her, probably from another stall or exhibit. The bell then rang three times as the clock tower of Aldebaran struck the third hour of afternoon.
The Maestro on the stage plopped white pasty paint on his face, making him more look like a funny ghost than a sad clown with his hay-colored strands, but it has its charms. With that, the “curtain”, or whatever it actually was when outdoors, drew to a close for intermission.
Worn down from the unbelievable performance she’d just seen, Seirin stood and donned her borrowed wimple, discreetly trying to stretch out her muscles from the atrophy of sitting still too long. She’d love to watch the rest of the opera, but there was still so much to be seen, to be done, and she couldn’t wait another 100 years just to do the things she missed at this festival. Excusing her way out from the rest of the remaining audience, she walked out to the aisle and caught the eye of the main actor who had come out of the stage side. He met eye to eye with her as he waved his hand in greeting. “Hey, Le-” Ack!
The laywoman forced herself to smile at the Maestro immediately, but it must have come out awkward that his smile dropped halfway. She tried to remedy this by slowly raising her hand in return but found her wrist held tightly.
“Seirin? Seirin Leiden? Is that you?”
Eh? Her nerves were shot by the sudden approach, awash with fear and panic, but she managed to calm herself down and look at her “captor.”
“Cal?” A familiar face, one she hadn’t seen in a long while. “I...wow, it’s been a long time. Where are your men?” She looked to his side, finding no one accompanying him. How strange. “What are you doing around here? You only ever popped up on days there is WoE, special events or not.”
WoE, a colloquial slang for War of Emperium. Formally promulgated last year in February by the late king and General Ministry. The War of Emperium was a total hit with the adventurers of Rune-Midgard, becoming what adventurers call ‘endgame.’ However, it wasn’t until a week after the Renewal Reformation Law was implemented that Cal came out of the woodwork, into the scene as a rising star, first as the beacon of independent, grassroots guilds, then involving himself in the internally infamous Alliance Wars, going back and forth between indie and allied. He defied convention on so many ways; with such feats, many idolized or scorned him. How Seirin and he knew each other was a different story, however, but needless to say her persistence back in the day won him over as a “friend”, complete with dubious implication.
“You- you’re…,” he raised his hand, reaching out to her in bewilderment as though she was different from when they last saw each other, before setting it back down. She couldn't think of anything to say to him, and so did nothing except to tuck back in a stray lock of her hair. He was never one for conversation, in fact, she had once bluntly said that he sucked at it. He immediately said something to remove the awkwardness between them, “I just checked Nuernberg’s treasury for the day. Are you still interested?”
Good old Cal, straight to the point and always blunt, but…
“Not here, not now. Follow me.” The laywoman took his hand and glanced at the Maestro one last time, who smiled at her again. She raised her other hand and waved a goodbye to him, before leading the leader (heh…) away to a more secluded spot, a coffee table near the north bridge. Both sat down facing each other. The question before hang in the air for a while, before Seirin found herself speaking, “No...I, I don’t. I’m a sworn mendicant now. I have no money to my name, and everything I beg for goes to the Prontera Sanctuary.”
The statement must have shocked him or not sunk in, as he did not say anything, until he actually just laughed. “I can’t even. You, Seirin Leiden,” he paused when Seirin interrupted him with a “shh” and a finger to her lips but still he continued “you, the shrewdest, most opportunistic and greediest person I know, who only talked about diamonds and needing more Zeny, are poor as dirt.”
“First,” Seirin responded while raising one finger “I am not ‘poor as dirt.’ If I were, that would actually be a good thing. Second,” another finger raised “why are you here in Aldebaran, Cal? Don’t tell me it’s because of the Kafra Centenary Festival. You have never been one for special events, even to celebrate Yule in Lutie. Whenever you appear it was always just in the agit realms, never actually in the cities, and after that you just skulk and lurk about God-knows-where.”
“I’m bored,” he said it with such conviction that he stretched out the “o”, reminiscent of the Pagliaccio awhile ago, and his mouth was turned downward wide open with a loud sigh. This was the respectable guild leader of the ChaoticCalamity guild? Seirin felt sorry for him and his boredom, really she did, and she even understood it, but it was still uncharacteristic of him to just saunter into a crowded town with when there was nothing to gain. She was about to ask him to clarify before her head throbbed and she was forced to rest it on her hand, lowering her wimple to cover her eyes from the heat of the sun. “Ahh…”
This did not surprise him, though there was some concern. “Seirin?”, he asked, before taking out a bottle of white potion and panacea from his armor just in case “Is it an attack? Are you tired?”
“No, no, I, ah, haven’t had an attack in two months. My vision isn’t blurring either. Put those away, you know they don’t help. It’s probably just the heat.” Seirin cleared her throat and interrupted him just as he was about to speak, “you don’t have tell me. Your reasons are your own, I’m sure. Whatever they are, let’s just enjoy the festival for the rest of the day. You go that way,” she pointed over his shoulder “and I’ll go this way” she changed with her thumb pointing to her back.
He understood those words, mixed with dismissal and apology, and turned his way. Before he left, he asked her one more thing, “are you also still bored?” but he did not wait for her answer and went on his way.
“I’m grateful only to be alive. You won’t understand that yet,” she answered ruefully long after he was gone.
Roughly around the same time inside the halls of Prontera Sanctuary, Father Bamph was bowing before an altar where a cup stood nestled in precious cloths. His eyes were closed and his hands were folded in prayer; his forehead creased with urgent fervor over the many petitions he must pray. The time of troubles and tribulations that were destined to come, the billions of souls that would be lost, the hardheartedness of those who refuse to understand. However, his prayers did not stave his attention from noticing that someone was behind him, and had been for quite awhile. “Biscuss, what is it?”
“Is there really no other way? If we could just ask the crown, or the General Ministry, they would gladly send adventurers our way.” The younger Priest had been waiting to say something, standing still trying to wait for the right moment. His face conveyed of much trouble and deep thought.
Father Bamph did not get up, but bowed even lower before the altar until he was kowtowing to it as his forehead touched the floor. “It’s already beyond our hands, but that is the way God has meant it. The crown would sooner help themselves than us. There is already friction between the temporal and spiritual spheres of this world.”
But the younger one would have none of it, and bravely stepped forward. “If we only surrendered to their wishes, they would come to our aid! As we speak, the royal families are conveying together to plan out about the approaching events, and more of the clergy’s potential are dwindling everyday. We have plenty of Crusaders and Paladins, or we could ask from the Chivalry for Knights to aid us. What is just one loss?”
“Biscuss!” It was that which Father Bamph finally bellowed, his loud voice echoed throughout the entire chapel. “Hold your tongue. You don’t know what you are saying. Showing anything but mercy would be against our creed.” That was enough to keep Father Biscuss from saying anything more. Silence followed, before the older Priest continued, “come kneel beside me, Biscuss. We have a lot to pray for.”
Father Biscuss obeyed, and knelt too before the altar. “What are we praying for, Father?” The title felt strange, as he has not called the older man that after ordination.
“Salvation, Biscuss. We are praying for salvation.”