When Ane awakens, she’s blinded by the faint glimmer of a memory.
A vast forest looms, fraught with buzzing lights and drooping shadows. Strange figures move about, all hiding their faces beneath wicker and burlap. Unlike the happy, aimless meandering of Paako’s citizens, they all move with purpose, surging towards a shape on the horizon…
Her vision swoops down from the canopy, like that of a bird, diving between the mud-root huts and the sleepy town squares. Like phantoms, the strange figures are gone. Finding no evidence of their passing, she glides upwards once more, soaring high, cresting over top of the squalls that pass along temple walls. Beneath her, the massive step-pyramid of the Eternalists lingers in shadow, looming like a colossal sailwhale beneath an ocean surf, or a turtle hiding within its shell.
In that moment, Ane’s “eyes” flare to life, and she sees color — or at least, a memory of color. It’s a deep, glowing violet, ensorcelled somewhere beyond the body of the temple. It calls out, not with a voice or a language, but with a feeling — a sense that it wishes to fly from here, as she soon will. And like a prisoner that watches the jail door swing closed, it knows its time is quickly slipping away.
All this comes minutes after waking, once the mind has had time to adjust.
Meanwhile, a familiar smell wafts in through Ane’s window — thick, creamy, buttery, cooking over an open bonfire. It can only be one thing: the dancer triplets’ patented sweetroot pancakes. They only make them when they’re in a particularly good mood. Sausages and other fixings are likely to follow as part of this rare, somewhat special occasion. Perhaps they’re pleased to be back in Paakoponde? Whatever the case, everyone’s likely to be in the camp for breakfast this morning.
Ane finds herself fixated on her dream. It’s strange — she’d never had, nor wanted, much truck with the Eternalists. Odd that their temple would appear to her now, though maybe not so very odd considering she’d seen it yesterday. Still, she knows better than to think this is a coincidence.
Nothing is ever a coincidence.
Ane avoids letting the memory get to her as she gets ready for the day, brushing her hair, washing up, and dressing for breakfast. When she emerges from her wagon and saunters over for some pancakes, she’s the picture of well-rested, unruffled calm.
This portrait of insouciance is met with a familiar sight — the food line. It’s rather long today, though it seems to be moving quickly, perhaps almost three times faster. This is fortunate, because people seem rather eager this morning. They shuffle as they stand, watching the backs of those in front of them with a deep, hungry impatience.
Soon, Ane arrives at the front of the line, where she’s greeted by the conjoined fuhajen triplets. Rather than dancing, this time they’re serving out food in a rather coordinated manner. Wila is to one side, flipping flapjacks on a set of iron pans, pausing to let each new serving sizzle over the fire. Beside her is Vila, in the middle, who smiles and hands out plates full of the morsels.
“Enjoy breakfast, it’s our specialty,” says the usually-sardonic middle sister, today with warmth.
A couple of seconds later, Zila, the “youngest” of the three, offers up the sausages and dollops of either jam or butter.
“I love it when she’s like this, so much easier,” she confides, pretending Vila can’t hear.
Of course, all three of them are joined at the hip this entire time. It’s really remarkable what six arms can do in such a confined space.
“Thanks,” Ane says brightly, as she accepts a plate piled high with cakes, flanked by sausage, and drizzled with butter and jam. She moves swiftly out of the way, to let the rest of the line progress, as she hums over the assembled caravanners to find a place to sit.
After a few moments of wandering, Ane finds a place at one of the larger circles. There are still no tables — lest the caravan more deeply flout the local customs — but the troupe seems used to eating with plates on their laps regardless. Ane’s spot is right between Nelea and Jiselmo (sans Korin), seated neatly on a log. A few others are nearby, including Vasht and Brair.
As Jiselmo notices her presence, he pauses eating and begins to beam excitedly.
“Ah! The one responsible for that glorious spectacle last night,” the shasii comedian says, glowing with mirth.
“And the one who cured Korin,” Nelea the animal tamer adds dutifully, chastising Jiselmo with a pointed look.
“Fpecacle?” Ane says, around a mouthful of pancakes. She swallows, gently licks a stray trace of jam from the edge of her lower lip, and says again, more clearly, “Spectacle?”
“Why yes,” Jiselmo replies, leaning back. “A wondrous sight happened upon me as I returned from my grocery run… why, it was truly radiant!”
“Oh, I know where this is going,” Vasht the knife-thrower grumbles, rolling his eyes.
“Purest ivory! Right there, bright and shimmering in the shardlight! It was the pale, contorted belly of my friend and compatriot Korin. Like a loaf of twist-bread or a young girl’s braid, he twisted ‘round towards the sun, splashing himself so copiously with old bathwater! All to apply the curse-cure you gave him.”
Ane purses her lips and furrows her brow incredulously at the actor.
“Aw, leave Korin alone… He’s gotten enough grief from you and your trinket-lady already. Besides, it fixed him, didn’t it? And,” she concludes, spearing another bite of pancake, “How’d you know what the Void ‘ivory’ looks like in the first place? You’re a shasii like me, you don’t even have eyes.”
“Why, dear Ane, we are masters of the dramatic,” Jiselmo waxes on, gesturing with a skewered pancake. “I may not see ivory, but I know it by its passing!”
“I think that meams,” Brair the firebreather mumbles through a mouthful, “That he made it up.”
“Oh, the color may be in my mind, but the spectacle was not! And he was so dedicated in his craft. When I approached, he looked on towards the sun in rapt determination… A true tragic hero,” the shasii continues, gesturing dramatically.
“I assume you were the cause of his misfortune, Jiselmo?” Nelea supposes.
“I cannot cause such bravery! The way he leapt in front of that crone’s eldritch claw was truly the stuff of song,” Jiselmo declares wistfully. “A true epic, featuring the wise Ane and her remedy, as well as my twitching compatriot with his visceral fondness for puns.”
“… It was Jiselmo’s fault,” Ane explains, “Or, as the trinket-seller apparently put it, Korin’s ‘pet blabrel.’”
This wins a sudden bout of giggles from the animal tamer, who has to stifle herself, lest she lose some of her breakfast along with her high-pitched giggles. Once the callosian has herself under control, Nelea mutters through teary eyes, “It’s true! He is so like a blabrel…”
“Such japery,” Jiselmo faux-chides. It’s not very convincing — he’s often lobbed worse at longtime friends in jest. “I am so much more majestic! Like a soaring silver skarrow, or a sociable clap-vole…”
“If by that, you mean you bring about buzzing horrors by smashing their eggs,” Vasht contributes, “Then yeah, sure, maybe a clap-vole,” he concludes with a wan smile.
“Still,” Ane continues, “You can’t mock him for doing what he needed to do to get your curse off of him — just be happy I didn’t have him dump the water on your side of the wagon.” She points her fork at Jiselmo, as if it were a wizard’s wand from a fae tale — as if she could strike him with some kind of buttery, jammy bewitchment from where she sits.
“Bwah!” Jiselmo recoils, just barely ducking an imaginary ray of jam. He stumbles back, and nearly knocks over a pile of clothes that’s heaped up between him and the cook-fire.
A head pops out of the pile. It is a shasii woman wearing a dark bandanna over a mop of curls.
“Be careful. I am toasting,” the scarf-pile chastises him. Vaidna the medicine peddler, apparently.
Jiselmo stops in place, frozen, furrowing his brow. He turns to the pile, then to Ane.
It’s another strange day in the caravan.