Eventually, we all ended up at the same place. In the middle of the camp, they’d built a huge bonfire. Here, the clan was cooking enough food to feed an army.
My first response was a hungry stomach growl. My second was to groan internally.
This could only mean one thing: a large communal dinner. A short time later, I discovered that I was right.
People began to pile in. Loud, rambunctious people who acted like they didn’t have a shred of sense in their heads took every available spot near the bonfire. They doled out food without care, even fixing a plate for me.
I was suffocating.
Too much sound. Too many people. Everywhere I tried to move, my escape route was blocked.
I started to imagine how my Dragon form would probably clear the place out. Before I got too far in that line of thought, I felt myself pulled aside. The throng, still celebrating, finally parted and gave me some room. It wasn’t due to me, though.
“You okay?” Levi asked, his hand still gripping my arm tightly.
“No,” I rumbled. “You left me in the middle of that.”
“Sorry. I got distracted.” He grinned sheepishly, rubbing a hand through the back of his hair.
He sighed, “Don’t be so grouchy. They’re just excited to see us.”
“You. They’re excited to see you,” I corrected. “Everyone here treats me like a stranger.”
Levi pointed to my plate as if to argue.
Flustered, I muttered, “That doesn’t count. They were giving food to everyone.”
“I thought you were worried about people knowing who you are,” he crossed his arms. “Which is it?”
“I don’t know,” I looked down. Coming back to the Glade, I had a lot to think about and work through. It was difficult to see people who looked like they didn’t have a care in the world. “I just want to be left…”
“Don’t say it. It’s not true,” Levi interrupted me. Then he pulled me out of the crowd a bit more, motioning to a tree stump that was out of the middle of the noise. “Here. Is this better?”
“It’s serviceable,” I judged.
“Just hang in there tonight. They’re worked up. They’ll probably drink themselves silly and be a lot quieter by the morning.”
“Fine,” I muttered. I suppose I owed Levi that much patience. Afterall, none of the people had been outwardly belligerent towards me. Yet.
When I next saw Horizon, I didn’t know who she was at first. Grandma had done a number on the Yyth girl, fixing her up in the trappings of their clan people.
Her stained and weathered suit was replaced with a long cream-colored robe. It fit her strange complexion well. I could tell that it was a man’s robe — despite her very thin build, she was too tall to have worn a woman’s robe well. She had a new pair of boots, which she squirmed in a bit — perhaps the fit wasn’t right. I could see a glitter of metal under the hem of her robe that indicated she still had the gravity-equalizers strapped around her ankles.
And, of course, the mask, which was extremely out of place with the rest of her garments.
The goggles were gone, as were her helm. For the first time I could more plainly see her delicate facial features framed with long creature-like ears. Even her feathery hair was pulled back and arranged.
She was both otherworldly and exquisite.
Everywhere she walked, she had eyes on her… and she knew it. Representing her people among the natives, she kept her chin high, walking with poise and dignity.
Horizon spent time talking with curious onlookers and grazing from the green food that was provided at the dinner. She maintained an aura of gentle patience. Eventually, after a short exchange with Levi, who was completely complementary towards her, the clan had no objections to a Yyth taking part in their celebration.
I blew some stray hair out of my face as she noticed me sitting on the outside of the throng. I tried to look the other direction, but it did no good. Horizon walked up to me with a droll expression.
I grunted to acknowledge her, chewing on a bone.
“That’s so impressively civilized.” I could hear the scowl in her tone. I knew what was coming next. “So I’m just an Invader that you took prisoner, and who has been useful to you?”
I tried to grunt again, but it sounded more like a groan.
“Yeah. That’s what I thought.”
I put the bone down on my plate and pursed my lips. “What do you want me to say? I’m no good at this… social stuff.”
“Not good at social stuff isn’t the same as insulting the person who…”
“I know. I know.” I sighed. Then I waved her away. “See now. People here love you already. They obviously love Levi.”
She crossed her arms. “That excuses your behavior how?”
“It doesn’t. I just shouldn’t be here.”
Horizon took a deep breath, shaking her head. I could see her realigning her thoughts again. Trying to not be angry with me. When she spoke, her words were similar to Levi’s. “Give them a chance, Bahamut. They don’t know you yet. Not the way we do.”
I rolled my eyes. “Lucky them.”
“Hush,” she chided me. “Be glad to be here. To be alive. We have a lot of work to do soon.”
I knew she was right about that. Before I could continue the conversation, some of the clan children came to gather around Horizon’s robes, asking to see the Circle.
“Oh, for Light’s Sake, Levi!” She shot a glance at him, knowing only a few of us were aware of the Circle’s existence at all. Not to disappoint the children, Horizon led them away from me to demonstrate what the device did.
I gave a long breath, alone again.
Only then did I see Levi’s grin. He’d done that on purpose, knowing I was in trouble with Horizon for one thing or another.
“What am I going to do with the two of you,” I muttered under my breath.
As usual, Levi was right. After meal, drink and some rowdy horseplay, the clan started to quiet down. Children fell asleep with the warmth of the bonfire’s embers to lull them. Others turned in for the night in their makeshift tents.
The ones who were left began to make music.
It started with one instrument. That’s all it took. Before I knew it, they’d brought out the entire group.
Like that first night they’d camped on their way to the Grove, they sang upbeat songs, words speaking thankful spirits and hopeful hearts. Levi once again played his stringed instrument, often picking out the main tunes and joining his voice to the songs.
I was drawn to it. I couldn’t help coming closer and closer until I was listening just on the edge of the firelight. I saw Horizon listening, too, sitting in a group of women and children somewhere across the fire.
A raspy voice spoke, hardly audible above the song, “The music resonates in you, doesn’t it?”
I looked down to see Grandma standing next to me. She hardly reached past my elbow, yet her presence was twice my size.
“Maybe,” I didn’t want to admit it.
“There’s a reason.”
I threw her logic back at her, “You said not everything can be reasoned.”
Grandma laughed and gave my arm a slap. “Wiseacre. This can be.”
Did she just? How can she slap?
I let that slide.
“Alright,” I arched an eyebrow at her. “Why?”
“Simple,” she cackled. “There’s a part of you that’s still like us.”
I swallowed the desire to argue this. Logically, it was true. I knew that somewhere in the past, my ancestors were descended from this clan. There were so many generations separating us, though.
She threw more validation at me when I didn’t respond. “Your Dragon proves it.”
Grandma didn’t say anything for a while. When she spoke again, her words shook me. “There’s a lot about yourself you don’t know yet, Bahamut. Return to the Glade when you’re ready to find the truth.”
“What’s that mean?” I lowered my brows. The way she said it gave me chills.
She refused to answer. Instead, she beamed a sweet smile and went to sit down near the bonfire.