Horizon had never seen exactly how popular Levi really was. Not until his people came to greet him. None of this was unusual to me, of course, but for the Yyth girl, I could tell her mind was swimming.
There were so many people. I recognized very few of them — I hadn’t spent much time talking to them or making connections before I left. They all maintained their rather rustic nature about them, the same as I’d seen of the people in the village. While there were no permanent structures built yet, they put together a respectful camp a short distance away from the Grove.
Like Levi, these people knew how to live off the land. Or, rather, in harmony with the land. I hadn’t forgotten that their creed was to coexist with nature, not to overcome it.
I also noticed that a number of them had the ripple of spirits that followed them, or were somehow linked to them. They had begun learning and embracing the way of their ancestors. A few of them had already taken on their other form. There weren’t many, but they seemed comfortable, almost natural, as they sat among their own.
Some of these forms imitated normal creatures you’d find in a forest. Our names were different for them, but for the sake of familiarity, I’ll call them what you might know them as. I saw canines of many shapes and sizes – things that were fox-like or wolf-like. A few cat-like and bird-like creatures as well.
Then there were creatures of fantasy, that I have no name for. I’m not sure some if these were ever documented before, or since. Some things seemed a mixture of other creatures all mashed together. Others were plain out otherworldly.
It made me wonder what people felt when they saw my Dragon form for the first time.
Despite being a Dragon myself, it was a little intimidating to face Levi’s clan. I could tell that Horizon felt the same way.
Levi’s pace quickened as he approached the others. His smile grew wider. If he felt any uncertainty in how his people had changed since he’d left, he didn’t show it.
Their voices grew louder as his smile spread, tinged with excitement as they welcomed him back. Then, Levi was swallowed in the middle of the sound, people chanting… whooping… hollering from every side.
It was a strange celebration. I’d come from a place where people were regulated. Where silence was demanded. Where outward shows of affection and emotion didn’t exist.
This was so… loud. So messy. Almost primitive and raw. But it was also true joy. True acceptance.
These people loved Levi. He genuinely cared for them in return.
One voice rose above the others in the middle of the cacophony. It was one even I recognized. I’d almost forgotten that Levi had a mate waiting for him to return.
The group of clan people parted, giving way as Sura pushed towards Levi. I swore I saw tears in her eyes.
She threw her arms around his shoulders. He pulled her close. As they came together, the two of them shared the deepest, most passionate kiss I’d ever been witnessed to.
Right there. A big sloppy one, right in the middle of all those people.
And what did the rest of them do? The lot of them cheered the two on. Of course.
“Oh!” Horizon exclaimed, her face coloring with an equivalent of a blush. Even she seemed embarrassed to see this. “Levi has a…”
“And he says it isn’t anything serious,” I grumbled to her. “That looks pretty serious to me. What do you think?”
“They’re still going.” She covered her goggles with her hand in shame. “Don’t they need to breathe?”
“Who knows. This is Levi.”
When they finally did disengage, both Levi and Sura were swept up in the crowd. Apparently, they were giving him the tour of their camp. This was probably just as well. The longer Levi was in the spotlight, the less time they’d spend shooting me accusing looks.
“Are all of your people like this?” Horizon asked, bringing me out of my thoughts.
I went to answer, then realized, I wasn’t sure. “I don’t know. My people weren’t, but we…”
She nodded slowly, indicating I didn’t need to finish the sentence.
“Are your people like this?” I turned the question around.
“Some of them can be a little boisterous,” Horizon laughed, as if recalling something funny. “But usually they aren’t quite this open.”
I leaned back against one of the trees. “I got you.”
We stood there for a while, giving Levi time to celebrate with his people. I’d almost thought they’d forgotten about us for good, until I saw a familiar, stooped figure walking down the hill towards us.
Horizon felt me stiffen, and peered at me in concern. “What? What’s wrong?”
“No…” I murmured more to myself than to her. “No, really?”
It was Grandma. The last person I expected to see there.
Now, I knew trouble was coming.
“Well, Bahamut,” was her greeting to me. She looked me up and down with the same disgusted look in her eyes as before. “You’re still alive.”
I tried to act casual. “You sound disappointed.”
“I wouldn’t go as far to say that,” Grandma responded. Then she looked at Horizon and gave a wolfish grin. “You did bring a girl.”
Horizon was struggling to figure out what exactly was going on, but she did understand Grandma’s insinuation. She turned all shades of different colors, stammering in shocked horror.
“She’s just an Invader we stumbled on. Took her prisoner,” I tried to play it off by telling a more blunt form of the truth. “She’s been useful to us.”
“Oh?” Grandma didn’t seem convinced.
What’s worse, I could see Horizon’s own face darken out of the corner of my eye. I’d just dismissed every sacrifice she’d made for us in the first casual conversation I had with someone else.
Yeah. She was pretty offended.
Grandma saw this, too. “I’d say this goes a little deeper than that, Bahamut. You’d best watch your words before the girl makes you eat them.”
I bristled, standing taller. I’d forgotten what it was like to have to prove my place with these people. On the journey, we’d all been as equals. But here, I had to be larger. Stronger. More powerful than they were.
There was no way I was letting this old woman drag me back to the village for a beheading.
I quickly changed the subject. “Why are you here, Grandma?”
I winced. In my haste, I’d actually spoken aloud the pet name I’d given her.
She just laughed. “Grandma is it?”
I grumbled and looked the other way. I could still feel Horizon’s heated gaze on me.
“Well,” To my surprise, Grandma actually chose to answer my question. “I came here to see the Grove with my own eyes, of course. Especially when reports came back to our village of successful… transformations.”
“What do you make of all that?” I asked, trying to keep her talking.
“I don’t know,” she lowered her voice. “I never felt the call like they did. I can’t speak for what they’ve been through. But they seem happy and complete. It’s very odd to me.”
“I suppose so.”
Horizon finally said something. Thankfully, her frustration was swayed by curiosity. “There has to be a reason for it.”
“Maybe.” Grandma turned to her. “But not all things can be reasoned or explained. That’s the nature of life.”
The girl frowned, and I could see a debate coming on. The old woman didn’t allow this, however. Instead, she took Horizon’s arm lightly and walked her into the camp. “You’ve come a long way to be here. It won’t do not to show you some hospitality. Never mind that rowdy lot.”
I noticed Grandma didn’t particularly invite me to come. But I walked with them anyhow. I had nowhere else to be.