Other [FanFic] Stages (Ch.26/26 - Jul. 9 - epilogue soon)

Discussion in 'Fan Works' started by Kid Absurdity, Jul 18, 2016.

  1. Kid Absurdity

    Kid Absurdity Void-Bound Voyager

    In anticipation of my very soon to occur 1000th thread view, have some bonus material!


    (ABIGAIL is hanging out with SEBASTIAN and SAM in SEBASTIAN's room. She is holding a shipping box.)

    ABIGAIL: Guys, check it out, I got a bulk discount on these goth finger claws!

    *laugh track*

    SAM: Ooh, cool!

    *laugh track*

    (A short time later, ABIGAIL and SAM have put a goth finger claw on every finger on their right hand.)

    SAM: These are sick! Fistbump, bro!

    (SAM and ABIGAIL bump their right hands together with a mighty metallic CLACK, and then recoil in pain.)

    SAM & ABIGAIL: OWWWWWW.

    *laugh track*

    SEBASTIAN: Bazinga.

    *laugh track*
     
    • MagicallyClueless

      MagicallyClueless Giant Laser Beams

      i like to imagine sebastian just walked out and then poked his head through the doorway, spouting one final "bazinga"
       
      • Kid Absurdity

        Kid Absurdity Void-Bound Voyager

        Because I didn't put in a stage direction specifically, MAYBE HE DID EXACTLY THAT.
         
        • Kid Absurdity

          Kid Absurdity Void-Bound Voyager

          No pre-writing note this chapter.



          As Archie jogged back through the trees and back toward the riverbank, kilt flapping in the wind, he couldn’t help but feel the forest was judging him and found him wanting. He had felt that way about a lot of things in his recent past – the city, his family, his workplace, but he also knew he felt different this time. His determination to prove himself had grown less frantic during his few short weeks on the farm – he was getting to the point that he thought he’d be able to survive and thrive regardless of what life or spirits of the forest threw at him. Only the crush on Sandy that he was rapidly developing was leaving him feeling insecure and on edge, and after over a year without that kind of prospect, or the heightened emotional state that came with a new one, he found it almost welcome. The challenges of the Junimos, he thought he could take on, her, though; it was more unclear in his mind.

          He made quick time to Emily’s house and knocked sharply on the door in staccato bursts. TAP-TAP-TAP…tap tap. It was Haley who answered the door, clearly expecting someone else. “Hey Alex…” she started saying, cheerily, before the realization that it wasn’t Alex at the door dawned on her. Her sunny tone of voice turned icy very quickly. “Oh. It’s you. They’re in the living room.” She turned around in a huff and hurtled off down the hallway toward her room, slamming the door shut behind her before slowly opening it a few moments later so that she could hear Alex knocking at the front door.

          Archie wasn’t that immediately concerned about Haley. She’d get over it eventually, and as it was the fact that he barely had anything to do with her anyway suited both of them just fine. He kicked off his shoes and socks, and walked into the living room. It was actually the first time he’d been inside Emily and Haley (and their traveling parents’) house, which was charmingly decorated with tasteful colours and mementos of trips to various places that they all had taken. A boomerang from the Kangaroo Flats, a tribal mask from the Lion Savannah, a pair of bongos from Lightning Island, all tastefully adorned the walls, with smaller knick-knacks adorning the mantle and the tops of shelves. When next the parents returned Archie would have so many questions to ask about the wider world, which was easy to forget existed in the small, remote, and insular community.

          Thinking about Pelican Town’s isolation and size made him feel all the luckier about the coincidence of Sandy’s arrival and the good fortune of Emily’s plan (it didn’t seem to him like she had that for an initial plan at all) going to plan (if there ever was a plan to begin with). Emily and Sandy were sitting close together on the middle of the couch, looking at a propped-up fashion magazine on the coffee table, when Archie walked into the room and sat down on the sofa opposite.

          “Can you make that for me?” Sandy asked her.

          “I think so. It looks tricky, but not beyond me.”

          “Oh thank goodness. I would hate to have to go looking in a Zuzu City department store.”

          Archie was curious. “What are you looking to have made?” He asked her.

          Sandy looked up over the top of the magazine. “Always full of questions,” she joked. “Emily’s going to make me a bridesmaid’s dress. Thank goodness the bride-to-be, a darling old friend of mine in Zuzu City, decided on a colour I’d want to wear again someday.”

          Emily interrupted her with good-natured laughter. “Good, I’d hate to make you something you’d only wear once.”

          They all shared a laugh. Archie opted against asking what colour the dress was for now. As much as Sandy seemed to enjoy answering his questions as much as she did gently chiding him for asking them, he figured that he would have ample opportunity to find out as they hung out and as the day went on.

          There was another knock on the front door, and Haley emerged from her room, casting a withering glare at the living room as she passed, before resuming her all-smiles sunny disposition. “Hey Alex!” She greeted him with carefully stage-managed cheerfulness. Archie hated to admit it, but he was actually somewhat impressed at her acting as the two of them entered the living room as though nothing was ever amiss. In fact, Archie wondered why Emily and Sandy had elicited her wrath as well as himself; and whether it was rational or not.

          Alex seemed to have cottoned on to the fact that something was amiss even if he wasn’t sure what, but he powered through his unease enough to remember his manners. “Hi Emily, Archie…” he scratched his head, “visitor,” he extended a greeting to Sandy after finally picking a word.

          “It’s Sandy, pleased to meet you. You danced well, by the way, helped Haley look like a proper Flower Queen,” she told him, which surprised Archie a little because he hadn’t particularly noticed Sandy paying any attention to the dance floor while they were dancing.

          “Thanks,” he answered, a bit hesitantly.

          Archie and Haley read Sandy’s comment in two very different ways. Archie thought she was being disingenuous, but to try to defuse Haley’s evident prior anger. The fact that Haley was the Flower Queen was probably something Emily would have told Sandy in advance. It was common knowledge in the town well in advance, Archie just didn’t care enough at the time to take much notice of that fact. Haley thought Sandy was making a mockery of her, especially given the way Sandy had played a part in upstaging the Flower Dance proper. Partially regretting his good manners for a moment, Alex winced in anticipation of what was to come.

          “HMPH!” Haley huffed, turning around and staring angrily at Sandy, who glanced over in her direction. “Not enough that you ruined the event? You have to patronize me too?”

          While Archie wanted to immediately jump to Sandy’s defense, he had somewhat exhausted his ill temper when he unloaded on Lewis earlier in the day, and regarded Haley’s outburst with more amusement than anger of his own.

          Sandy, for her part, didn’t take the bait. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” she said, “though if they didn’t want others to dance, they could have put a sign up.”

          “Or told us more about it,” Archie added, which Emily looked less than thrilled about since she was his main source of information about the Flower Dance in the first place.

          “Just a set of unfortunate misunderstandings,” Sandy concluded.

          All the while, Haley was growing more and more agitated, and since Archie and Sandy weren’t giving her the reaction she wanted, she turned to another more familiar target in her sister. “Misunderstandings that could all have been avoided if you showed any consideration!”

          Emily, in spite of knowing Haley the best of all the assembled company, was as dumbstruck as the rest of the room was, while Haley continued her rant; “You could have told either of them that everyone watches the main dance! You could have never invited her to begin with!”

          Emily started to shake, though it wasn’t clear which emotion out of numerous possible candidates was the cause.

          “And that’s not to mention the shabby-looking crap you gave us to wear! What were you even thinking?” Haley added with outright and evident malice.

          Alex was the first person to react, gently taking Haley by the arm and trying to usher her away. Haley looked like she had more to scream at her sister, but calmed down a little bit and went with Alex toward her room. That gave Emily a bit of time to gather herself, though she was still shaking, and breathing heavily.

          “Let’s go walking,” Archie suggested. Haley and Emily would both have an easier time calming down away from each other, if the family dynamic was anything like Archie’s arguments with his own sister. And, to kill two birds with one stone, he also wanted to show them the farm, since neither of them had been. Emily and Sandy agreed, and while Emily still looked distraught, hopefully the air, the walk, and the distance from Haley would all do her some good. They walked past Sam’s house, where he was tooling around with his skateboard. Sam waved at the three of them, but was gently rebuffed by Archie telling him that it wasn’t a good time, so he wished them well and let them walk on. It was after they had walked on past Leah’s cottage and Marnie’s ranch and on the forest path leading up to the south of the farm that Emily let out the sigh she had been bottling in and started to cry gently. They stopped walking.

          “I’m sorry, guys,” Emily said in between tiny sobs. “She gets to me sometimes.”

          Archie and Sandy approached to hug her, creating a pause in Emily’s train of thought. “There, there, darling,” Sandy told her.

          “She knows very well how to get to me,” she added.

          “Siblings tend to.” Archie said, empathetically, adding, “And for what it’s worth, I don’t think there’s anything to blame you for.”

          Sandy looked at him curiously, but didn’t say anything, while Emily thanked him. They kept walking in silence and soon arrived at the pond by the southern entrance to the farm, which was still largely overgrown, though Archie maintained a path from the entrances up to the fields and the farmhouse.

          “Welcome,” he told them.

          Sandy looked around at the farm in all directions, a bit dumbfounded. “It’s so overgrown!”

          Archie laughed. “You should have seen it when I arrived – it was tragic! Now I’ve got proper little fields instead of a balcony herb garden. By the fall, it should mostly be usable land!”

          Emily cupped her hands together and dipped them into the pond, washing her face with it, and looking a bit refreshed for it, along with having the tears being indistinguishable from the other water.

          “The house is just over there, we can hang out there for a bit,” Archie told the two women. “But Emily, are you OK?”

          “Better now, thanks,” she replied, and it seemed sincere given that she was starting to smile again. “I know she was lashing out and that I shouldn’t take it personally, but blaming the whole thing on me and attacking my passion projects was over the top.”

          Sandy, relieved to see her friend in better spirits, said as much; “I’m glad to hear it, Emily, and Archie?”

          “Yes?” he answered.

          “You put it a very strange way when you said Emily wasn’t to blame.”

          “You’re right,” Archie answered, “though that’s not what I said at all.”

          The two women looked at him with a bit of confusion. He continued; “I’ll explain, though this is going to sound a bit strange.” He retold his conversation with Lewis and Linus, about the Flower Dance and the way it was supposed to show the town’s sense of community, and the superstition attached to it, with the Junimos and their blessings and lessons.

          “So, Emily, maybe you are responsible for some small part of the festival going how it did. But I don’t think it’s fair to blame you for any of that. If it’s all about community, you did the most to extend the community. You invited Sandy, and looked after me, and poured however much work into those dresses, which looked great on them. And it made the town’s divisions more apparent so maybe we can fix them. So I’d sooner thank you and that’s what I meant.”

          Sandy and Emily exchanged an inscrutable look.

          “That’s nice of you, Archie, if maybe a bit naively optimistic,” Emily responded.

          “Well, aside from enjoying both of your company, that’s what’s stopping me from running back to your house and verbally obliterating your sister,” he said, gesturing toward the farmhouse. “She’s got a lot to learn, and one day she will. But it’s not today and maybe it’s not me she’ll learn it from.”

          Sandy and Emily assented, and the three of them headed up toward the house. Archie pulled out his grandfather’s old wooden dining chairs and they sat on his patio, talking about whatever interested them at the moment; fashion design, style, the desert and the town, dancing, the Junimos and speculation about what Archie and Lewis would be doing the next day, more about themselves and their attitudes toward things, and so on. At a certain point Archie went to use the washroom, as much out of needing to as wanting to give Emily and Sandy a few minutes without him. He returned with his fiddle case and, after securing their permission, started playing some of the songs he remembered, reels and jigs, Emeralder ballads, more popular music he’d taken the time to learn, whatever struck his fancy. Having hardly touched the fiddle in some time, it was rusty, but as a backdrop to the continuing conversation, it was pleasant enough for the three of them.

          Eventually, the late afternoon rolled around and Sandy decided she’d be best off driving back to the desert before it got dark. Archie volunteered to walk her back to her car, and Emily gave her friend a hug and they said their see-you-arounds before Emily headed back toward her house via the southern path. Feeling the extent of his crush on her, Archie was fairly quiet as he walked Sandy off toward the bus stop, where she had parked her car, until they arrived at the bus stop and he remembered something specific.

          “Hey, weren’t you planning to leave with a trunk full of valley flowers?” he asked.

          Sandy nodded. “Not the whole trunk, but I didn’t have the opportunity to buy any after all the commotion,” she said, sounding a bit disappointed about that fact.

          “Wait here a minute,” Archie said, briskly walking along the side of the wooden fence that bounded the road near the bus stop. He’d often seen daffodils growing there, and he hoped that Evelyn left some of them alone in the course of her picking a massive amount of the wildflowers for the festival. He found one in the lengthening shadow of one of the fence posts, a little on the smaller side but suitable to his purposes, as he gingerly squatted down to pick it, before walking back toward Sandy.

          Extending his hand to offer her the daffodil, he told her, his voice lightly fluttering like the flower’s petals in the spring breeze, “After the great time I had with you today, I couldn’t have you leave the Flower Dance without at least one.”

          Sandy’s reaction was expressive, to say the least. All at once, her eyes seemed to light up and the blush rushed to her face to match Archie’s as she took the hand holding the flower and pulled him into a close hug. The next moment was enough of a blur that they were very suddenly kissing without him having any idea who instigated it, not that either of them was complaining. A few minutes later they pulled apart, Sandy gently plucking the daffodil out of Archie’s hand, each looking more than a bit surprised at what had just happened and how.

          “Ask Emily for my phone number, and come visit the desert any time you’re able to leave the farm,” she told him.

          “I’ll be happy to, and you’re welcome here when you have the time to get away,” he replied.

          “Wonderful.”

          Inwardly, Archie agreed with her as he watched her climb into her hatchback, and drive off waving at him. No sooner that the car was out of eyeshot that he broke into an idiot’s grin and walked home with a spring in his step he had found quite lacking for some time. After a very rough start, his first Flower Dance in the Valley had reached a very satisfying end.


          No post-writing note this chapter.
           
          • Risukage

            Risukage Existential Complex

            Haley may have been the Flower Queen but she's just a Spoiled Princess. :p

            Also, loving the real-world nods and their names, very imaginative! I knew JUST to where you were referring. Making the small world of SDV seem a bit bigger with more depth.
             
              Gabaw and Alkanthe like this.
            • Gabaw

              Gabaw Scruffy Nerf-Herder

              Down with Haley! Up with Emily! Smooch with Sandy! Wait so who is Archie going for Leah or Sandy i still don't know. the tire tracks from before still sting...
               
                Risukage likes this.
              • Alkanthe

                Alkanthe Oxygen Tank

                Oh, I get it now.

                Also, I do wanna punch this Haley.
                 
                  Gabaw likes this.
                • Kid Absurdity

                  Kid Absurdity Void-Bound Voyager

                  I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you(r enjoyment of the fic by spoiling you as to the details).

                  That speaks well to my writing her as a whiny git.
                   
                    Gabaw, Alkanthe and Risukage like this.
                  • Kid Absurdity

                    Kid Absurdity Void-Bound Voyager

                    This is a longer chapter than usual with a lot going on. Part of the reason is that that's where the story is going, and part is that I have some additional projects this coming week and may take a week off from this ahead of another big chapter coming on the 22nd (you'll see why the next chapter is also likely to be long after reading this one).



                    That night, Archie struggled to sleep, and slept uneasily when he finally did, for two reasons: the first and foremost in his mind was the uncertainty and excitement around Sandy and what the future might hold. They had each made a strong and positive impression on each other, which Archie found exciting. Ever analytic, and to excess at that, he gave his mind free roam to wander onto possibilities realistic and unrealistic alike, and the way he was unintentionally carving out his place in the town and its local culture. The second was the morning’s Junimo-hunt with Lewis and what that might mean for him. That was both less and more of a concern for him than Sandy was. With the distance between Pelican Town and the Calico desert, and their respective careers, Archie didn’t expect to see Sandy every day, or even every week. The way Lewis seemed to put it, though, the Junimos would have impact on his life every day, at least for the remainder of the year, and summer hadn’t even started yet. Just when he became convinced he wouldn’t be able to sleep, he fell into restful slumber, and he awoke to Marnie’s rooster crowing more refreshed than he thought he had any right to be at dawn, considering how late he actually nodded off. He took that as a good sign.

                    He also took it as a good sign when the shower didn’t start off vacillating between extremes of scalding and frigid water thanks to his grandfather’s old water heater for the first time since he had moved in, and his breakfast of French toast, though not a good sign, was tasty enough. He walked the path into town that led past the bus stop, looking wistfully at the fencepost he plucked the daffodil out from under the evening before. The pastel pinks and orange hues of dawn were different to the copper glow of sunsets, and while Archie was awake at dawn, he was never in the forest early enough in the morning to appreciate the natural splendour they brought. He made a note to tell Leah that she’d do well to get up earlier to capture those on canvas if she hadn’t already.

                    The centre of town, which looked magical with the dew and coloration of the morning light, was still asleep. Down on the beach Willy started some early morning fishing before his shop would open, but otherwise, only Archie, making his way toward Lewis’ house, and Lewis himself, were awake.

                    Archie made his way up to the mayor’s house, which was significantly larger than his farmhouse, though not significantly more modern, from the outside. He knocked, and Lewis answered a short time later, with a thermos-bottle of coffee in hand. “Take this,” Lewis told him, “it’s not as good as what Gus makes, but we might need the pick-me-up later.”

                    Archie hooked the handle of the mug topper around his index finger. “Makes sense to me, though, for this hour, I’m more energized than usual.”

                    “Slept well?” the mayor asked.

                    “Not what I’d call long enough, but yeah, I did.” Archie replied.

                    Lewis nodded. “Same.”

                    They exchanged pleasantries about the way the rest of the day of the Flower Dance went, until they left Lewis’ property, Archie mentioning the argument between Haley and Emily and some segment of his conversation with Sandy, with Lewis bringing up a more extensive conversation about the Junimos with Linus and another conversation about the Flower Dance the year Archie’s grandfather had arrived, with Evelyn. Lewis led them along the path northward from his house, along the river and into the mountains.

                    “I thought the Junimos were forest spirits,” Archie said aloud.

                    “They are.” Lewis told him.

                    “So shouldn’t we be looking for them to the West, in the forest?” he asked.

                    “That’s very perceptive of you, and you’d be right except for one thing.”

                    “And that is?”

                    “You’ll see,” the mayor told him.

                    They walked up into the town’s playground and then over toward the dilapidated community centre. The building was falling apart, and it looked like nature was reclaiming it for its own after decades of neglect. Lewis unlocked the door and ushered Archie inside.

                    The floorboards were rotting and the sub-floor was cracked by tangle and roots pushing through, leaving traces of the mossy earth below visible. The drywall was anything but, and was crumbling. The entrance hall, in stark contrast to the world just outside the door, smelled strongly of loam. It was like no building Archie had ever been in, but from the traces of what was left, Archie began to make out the purpose of some of the rooms. “What happened to this place?” he asked Lewis.

                    “Time did,” Lewis told him. “The community centre was built a long time ago. My grandfather was the mayor then. The neglect’s more recent. When the mines closed, and people left, we couldn’t afford to keep it operating, of even to maintain it. Your generation didn’t get to experience it, though I wonder if they would have or if it’d all be videogames and solitary pursuits anyway.”

                    Archie walked along one of the walls surveying the room, taking it all in, including an odd pile of debris that vaguely resembled a tent that he nearly tripped over. “It’s hard to say. I don’t know if a space like this would change our habits or open us up to each other more. We seem pretty established in our interests and who our friends are, and once the shine of me being new and novel wears off, I’ll probably slot into a niche like that too.”

                    “That makes me a bit sad,” Lewis replied. “When the town was bigger, having those little groups felt less isolating than it does today... and don’t look at me like that, I’ve seen a lot of friends leave this town.” Archie was definitely looking at him like that, and tried to stop with modest success at best.

                    Archie explored the building while Lewis waited in the entrance hall. The pantry and kitchen weren’t faring any better than the rest of the building with their collapsed shelves and rusting appliances. The art room resembled paint wildly thrown at a room, and the office looked like it had been ransacked. A vault with a dangling door occupied most of the basement along with a rusted out furnace. Archie climbed back up to the entrance hall.

                    “What would Pelican Town have to store in that vault?” He asked Lewis, figuring the mayor might have had some idea.

                    Lewis nodded with amusement. “Oh, just documents and mining royalties, it’s a lot less exciting to think about when you realize there was never a bank here and there hasn’t been a lawyer in decades.”

                    “Sounds like paradise,” Archie half-joked, getting a guffaw out of Lewis when he heard a skittering sound coming from the area near the debris structure. “Did you hear that?”

                    “Nothing,” Lewis answered. “One of the Junimos, I’d wager, I haven’t noticed a trace of them since I became the mayor, and I doubt I will again.”

                    “You used to see them too?” Archie asked, with some incredulity.

                    “Oh, yes, and Linus too. That’s what brought us and your grandfather together. He hasn’t seen them since he came back to Pelican Town to live wild either. We older folk just have vague memories to help you go by, I’m afraid.” Archie was still trying to take that in when he heard the noise again and turned around sharply. Still nothing.

                    Lewis continued after a pause, his reminiscence giving way to practicalities. “I’ll explain it later, but I think this will answer your earlier question about why we came here and not the forest. Stick around a while, and I’ll see you at the saloon later. Friday night, after all.” He turned and left the building.

                    It hadn’t occurred to Archie that it was Friday. Usually he’d consider that when watching the TV before going about his farm chores, all of which he delayed that morning. He supposed he would see Lewis later, though he would have appreciated it if he had stayed inside the building long enough for him to say goodbye. He took a seat by the debris structure and he waited.

                    And waited.

                    And waited.

                    He thought he’d be getting hungrier or thirsty by now, and he wasn’t. He waited some more.

                    And waited.

                    And waited.

                    And nothing.

                    He stood up and took a step toward the door, and was interrupted with a torrent of squonk noises coming from behind him.

                    He turned around and didn’t see anything, and then he remembered how small the Junimos were. He looked down, and still saw no Junimos, nothing but the rotting floorboard and a sheet of birch bark outside the debris structure with seemingly unintelligible sigils on it. He bent down to pick it up to a renewed chorus of Junimo noises coming from all around him at maddeningly close proximity, but he still couldn’t see them. He looked at it, turning it over and around before figuring out that one of the signs meant “THIS SIDE UP”. That was as far as he got with it, and after looking it over for about another ten minutes, and trying looking at it like a magic eye puzzle only to find that there wasn’t a picture of a sailboat ready to jump out of the birch bark scroll, he carefully rolled it up and tucked it in his inside jacket pocket.

                    “I have absolutely no idea,” he said, to no one in particular. The Junimos squawked and honked and squonked at him with what he took to be encouragement as he left shaking his head with incredulity about the whole situation, disappointed about not seeing the Junimos themselves. It was already late into the afternoon, and a gentle rain began to fall, to Archie’s relief, since at least he wouldn’t have to water his crops. He legged it over toward the library, which Gunther, the librarian, was about to lock up.

                    “Hi, farmer Archie,” Gunther greeted him. “I have to ask you to make any browsing you want to do very fast, I’d like to beat the traffic on the way home tonight; my daughter has a recital.”

                    “Point me to local folklore and I’ll be out of your hair in a right hurry,” Archie replied, “I wondered why you weren’t at the festivals, now that I think of it.”

                    “I would go, but the extra days off are rare enough that I try to spend them with my family. My daughter would probably love the festivals; my wife would need persuading to come out here.”

                    “What’s the next one?” Archie asked.

                    “Luau, I think. Beach party and a barbeque. That would take me back to my youth.”

                    “Maybe you should get started on the persuading early, now, folklore books.”

                    Gunther led him into the library and to a tall set of shelves. “Second shelf from the top, left side,” he explained, before cutting himself off suddenly, “hmm… one of the books is missing, and I’d have remembered checking it out. I hope the other ones will do.”

                    Archie glanced at the titles, picking one off the shelf, and then pointed at one unmarked leather-bound book. “What’s that one?”

                    Gunther glanced at the book. “That’s an interesting story. Around fourty-five years ago, an anthropologist was doing research on the local culture of mining towns. He settled here for a while and took these field notes, but he disappeared in mysterious circumstances before he could publish them. My predecessor found the book and kept it here.”

                    “May I borrow it?”

                    Gunther sighed. “To be honest with you, it should be on a reference shelf rather than in circulation, and I should scan it into a digital format. How about I send you the digital copy tomorrow and save you the trip?”

                    “That suits. I’ll check this one out, thanks.”

                    Gunther looked at the book, and then Archie curiously, “Yoba and other Ferngill Spirits. That’s an interesting choice; I didn’t take you for a religious man.”

                    “I’m not, though I might become spiritual in the very near future,” Archie replied. Gunther found that enigmatic. “Thanks for your time, enjoy your evening, and remember, for the Luau, persuade!”

                    He laughed. “I’ll see what I can do. Happy reading, Archie.”

                    Archie jogged headed back home across the square as Clint was leaving the blacksmith’s shop to head toward the saloon, cementing for Archie that it was even later than he thought it was. He was never in the habit of jogging, but it took him longer than usual to get winded, a sign his physical health was improving already. Once there, he carefully unrolled the birch bark scroll and put it inside the front cover of the book, which he stowed under one of his pillows as he went to shower before joining his friends at the saloon, still unsure of how he’d explain this whole business.

                    He walked briskly toward the Stardrop Saloon, the damp ground giving slightly under his boots as he propelled himself forward comfortably, like walking on a cushion of air. In fact, he thought that a number of things were more comfortable than they ought to be given the early rise, relatively light breakfast, and skipping lunch. Ordinarily, he’d be ravenous, but tonight he was pleasantly eager. Pushing open the double doors, he saw the usual Friday night crowd assembled, plus Maru this week.

                    All eyes in the room turned to see who walked in, an artefact of everyone knowing everyone. What Archie tried to observe was who let their gazes turn into stares as they lingered on him a little bit longer than propriety dictated. He noticed Pierre, Leah and Emily doing it, but it was too fast for him to tell much more. He walked a bee-line straight to a back table where Lewis, Willy, Clint, and Marnie were having a conversation over food and beer.

                    “Excuse me everyone, hope you’re well, Lewis, may I have a few words with you, please?”

                    The rest of the table exchanged slightly curious glances as Lewis rose from the table and walked with Archie over toward the jukebox, which was loud, but about the only notably empty space in the saloon.

                    “How was your day?” Lewis asked him.

                    “Very strange,” Archie said. “The Junimos left me a scroll but I can’t figure out what it means.”

                    “That’s a new one on me,” Lewis said. “I’d only seen them once, and they weren’t writing at the time.”

                    “Got any suggestions?”

                    “Linus might have an idea; or even the Wizard…”

                    As if the Junimos weren’t enough, Archie’s world-view stretched at the limit. “There’s a wizard?”

                    “Have you ever walked west through the forest near your farm?” Lewis replied, “He lives in the tower there.”

                    “I must not have, I never saw a tower,” Archie scratched his now aching head.

                    “Abigail sometimes spends time there on the weekends, she’s in the arcade, feel free to ask her. Is there anything else?”

                    “No. Should I tell you what it says once I figure that out?”

                    Lewis shook his head. “If you think it’s important. We’re all involved, but you’re the one they’re dealing with for a reason.”

                    Archie shrugged and thanked Lewis, letting him return to his conversation with the older adult crowd, while inwardly being mildly annoyed about how he had to play supernatural errand boy for the town. Rather than let that get compounded by his hunger, he made his way to the bar to place an order for food, and another blessed pale ale, with Emily, who, for all her staring at Archie’s entrance, was far from hiding her intentions when he got there.

                    “How was the rest of your evening yesterday?” She asked, smiling widely.

                    Archie smiled in turn. “Actually really pleasant, thanks for asking, and causing it. Heard from Sandy since?”

                    She shook her head. “Not yet.”

                    “She said to ask you for her phone number, but if you want to hear that from her before giving it to me, that’s fine.”

                    “I’ll text her when things quiet down a bit. Gus doesn’t like me using the phone on the job, but this is urgent,” she joked. “I didn’t think you’d hit it off that well.”

                    “It’s funny, I hardly know the first thing about her, but a lot of what I did learn, I liked. I can see why the two of you are good friends.”

                    “And?” Emily added, grinning mischievously.

                    “And she’s as hot as glowing coals.” Archie replied, feigning exasperation.

                    Emily laughed, bordering on cackling. “I’ll try to get the ok to give you her number before the end of the night. Want anything?”

                    Archie thought about it briefly “One of the night’s specials, a pale ale, and to see if things are stabilizing between you and Haley.”

                    Emily shook her head as she started pulling the pint of beer. “Not yet, it’ll be a few days before she cools off about the Flower Dance, it’s pretty much the highlight of her year. We’ll get there. I’ll bring your food over to you when it’s ready.”

                    Archie took the glass and thanked her before checking in with Leah, who seemed less outright terrified and more embarrassed than she did the previous day. Leah asked how he was and he answered that he was doing very well, which relaxed her a bit.

                    “I was worried you took yesterday personally,” she told him.

                    Archie thought about it for a few moments. “It was less you saying no and more how scared you looked when I asked that bothered me.”

                    Leah sighed deeply. “Yeah. Sorry about that. I’ve been trying to work out a lot of stuff lately, but especially relationships and what I want out of them and such. You poked at a raw nerve, that’s all; it’s not your fault. I didn’t really have a chance to explain.”

                    Archie looked at her with some concern. “Any success with that?”

                    “Hard to say,” she said, shrugging. “It’s a lot of coming to terms with a very poor history, and who knows what’ll stick.”

                    “I wish you the best,” he offered, nodding sympathetically, if gravely.

                    “What about you?”

                    “What about me?”

                    “Your Flower Dance seemed pretty fraught. I didn’t expect you and Lewis to blow up at each other like that,” she told him straightforwardly.

                    Then it was Archie’s turn to sigh. “He was able to calm me down when he explained his side of it to me, but I didn’t appreciate the whole event making me and Sandy feel like outsiders. If I had a say in it, I’d do things differently next year.”

                    Leah nodded, with the same expression of embarrassment. She also felt a tinge of guilt. “I felt really badly about that, actually. I’m glad you stood up for her, and yourself. Maybe we will start doing things a bit differently.”

                    “It’d be nice,” Archie mused. “How did you enjoy it? I know the blow-ups are the talk of the town, but that notwithstanding it seemed pretty nice.”

                    “It was pretty enjoyable catching up with Elliott; he was as gentlemanly as usual and is a surprisingly good dancer.”

                    “That’s good,” Archie said, with a bit of unease.

                    “And Sandy?” Leah asked, somewhat excitedly, “what was it like dancing with her, and who is she?”

                    Archie explained what little he knew, that she was Emily’s friend, that she lived in the desert, and that she was hard to lead but fun to dance and to talk with. Leah said she thought that was nice. He extended another invitation to join the misfits in the arcade and was about to get up when Emily arrived with his plate of baked fish and a gleaming smile to match the mischief in her eyes.

                    She deposited the plate on the table along with the bundled up napkin and cutlery, and then set another napkin with something scribbled on it on the other side of the plate before turning on her heel, addressing Archie before walking back to the bar: “One nightly special, and one hot redhead’s phone number. Don’t say I don’t look after you, Archie!” He practically blushed crimson at Emily parading that one publically, but he couldn't disagree that she was looking after him, in her way.

                    Leah was a mixture of shock and bemusement as Archie stammered out a “thank you” and pocketed the napkin. He sipped his beer and started eating, and he noticed that Leah had already finished her salad early into the evening this time.

                    “You ate better this week,” he said.

                    “Yeah!” Leah agreed, “It was a bit less stressful.”

                    “I’m glad.”

                    They talked about art and their respective weeks, though Archie omitted the day’s Junimo business. He finished his beer and his meal and dropped the plate, the cutlery, and the mug off on the counter, thanking Emily again while shaking his head as she laughed heartily. He had a similar, if briefer, conversation with Maru about the Flower Dance and their respective weeks, and she reminded him that his blood test appointment was coming up soon.

                    Pierre scowled at him as he entered the arcade. Archie jauntily waved back. Eventually Archie thought that Pierre would be less petty about everything, especially since he wasn’t interested in chasing his daughter at present, which was true for all of one day. But until then, Archie would take the high ground.

                    The arcade was a familiar but slightly different scene. Rather than bashing her head against the brick wall that was Journey of the Prairie King, Abigail was sitting quietly on the sofa drawing something in a sketchbook, while Sebastian and Sam played pool. Archie gave the trio what had become by now the usual greeting of “hey, misfits!” and the subdued energy of the three of them sprung to life. Sebastian smiled a little bit. Abigail hopped up out of her seat and walked toward him, while Sam turned away from the pool table and held his arms out as if to offer a hug, still holding his pool cue in his left hand. “Welcome, Pelican Town’s Worst Flower Dancer, Destroyer of Festivals!”

                    Archie’s laughter boomed throughout the room and spilled out into the main hall of the saloon as he walked over to the pool table and leaned against one of the corners. “I contend that I did just fine as a dancer, it was the flower dancing part that got me.”

                    “Your mystery partner seemed to enjoy it,” Sam continued, egging him on.

                    “That’s because she did,” Archie deadpanned, “though the flower dancing part also got her, so we had that in common.”

                    “Who was she?” Abigail asked with intense curiosity.

                    “Her name is Sandy, she’s a friend of Emily’s who lives in the desert on the outskirts of Cactus Town,” Archie told them.

                    “I’ve ridden through Cactus Town on the way to Zuzu City,” Sebastian said. “The desert’s nice at night, but I find it unbearable during the day. Have you been?”

                    Archie shook his head. “We passed through a different part of the desert when I bussed in from Gallibrand, but I haven’t been up to that part of it. I might look to visit if I can figure out buses and whatnot.”

                    “That’d be almost as much of a pain as Sam,” Abigail added. “That broken down bus by the bus stop used to run the route from Zuzu City to Hub Town, stopping at Cactus Town, the eastern Calico Desert, and here. It was running at a loss so the company discontinued the route through here and runs it express from Hub Town now.”

                    Sam looked visibly agitated, but more about the bus than Abigail’s disparaging comment, as he chimed in, evidently angry. “Yeah, and what’s worst about it isn’t the lack of convenience. Pam drove that bus, and after she lost her livelihood she’s taking Penny’s down with her.”

                    Sebastian walked around the table and put a hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Don’t make loud enough of a scene for her to hear you. You know how she’ll take it and what she’ll do,” he told his friend quietly. Sam nodded gravely, and Archie began to understand more about the way the people of the town’s lives, and their suffering, were open secrets.

                    “What happened with Penny?” Archie asked, but Sebastian cut him off.

                    “Ask her sometime,” he told him bluntly, “it’s her story to tell or not.”

                    Archie nodded. It was a bit strange to him, but fair enough, he thought. It took a few minutes for Sam to return to his joviality, and when he did he ribbed Archie about how Archie ruining the Flower Dance meant that Lewis would leave him alone for a change, or about his new girlllllfriennnnd.

                    Sebastian was fairly quiet for a good chunk of the night, but seemed to be enjoying himself until Maru headed into the arcade and walked straight up to Sebastian to tell him something that Archie couldn’t hear, at which point, looking mildly annoyed, Sebastian said his goodbyes for the evening. Sam looked a little lost and headed over to play some Journey of the Prairie King, leaving Archie with the sketching Abigail.

                    “I have a couple of questions for you,” Archie asked.

                    “Sure,” Abigail said, with a shrug.

                    “What’re you drawing?”

                    She tilted the sketchbook toward him and the page showed a cartoon comic of Sebastian and Sam arguing about something. It was nothing stellar, but the two of them were definitely recognizable.

                    “Neat,” he concluded. “Second question, Lewis mentioned a Wizard who lives on my side of town, and said you might be able to direct me there.”

                    Abigail seemed to light up at the prospect. “You’re not after a love potion, are you?”

                    Archie shook his head, blushing profusely. “No, come off it, after all I had to hear about that from Sam…”

                    “I didn’t think you were interested in the occult and all that as well,” she said.

                    “I’m not,” Archie said, and Abigail’s smile began to droop, “or, at least, I wasn’t,” he continued, covering up his previous statement. “But after chewing me out for ruining the Flower Dance, Lewis made mention of the superstitions surrounding it and why he thought it was such bad news for the town.”

                    From the arcade cabinet, Sam’s voice resounded throughout the arcade, “WOOOOO! Level 2!”

                    Abigail glared at him briefly as he kept playing, the turned back to face Archie expectantly.

                    “Junimos and stuff, surely you know this better than I do after living here all this time?” He said.

                    Abigail shook her head. “Not really, no. Mom and Dad never mentioned it to me. Alright, I’ll tell you what, I’ll take you to the Wizard tomorrow afternoon, and introduce you, but I get to listen in, deal?”

                    Archie considered it for a short time. “You get to hear us discuss the Junimos, the Flower Dance, and the aftermath. Any family business, you don’t. Anything else, we decide as we go. Are you on board?”

                    Abigail had a giddier smile than when they were discussing the urban goth clubs. “Agreed! Meet me in front of the store at 2 and we’ll go.”

                    They shook hands on it and parted ways for the night, saying goodbye to Sam, who was still crushing the Journey of the Prairie King under his gaming prowess, on their respective ways out. After they left and Sam finished his game, he quickly texted Sebastian to let him know to be in front of the general store at 1:55 the next day, because there was finally going to be some excitement in this town.



                    I'm leaning a bit more toward discussing things in the comments than in post-writing notes, in general.
                     
                      Last edited: Sep 8, 2016
                    • Alkanthe

                      Alkanthe Oxygen Tank

                      I love how you're interweaving relationships and adding material that makes sense and even gives reasons for why people act the way they do. That's one of my favorite things about your story, actually. Everything has a reason, it's not "just because the game said so".
                       
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                      • Risukage

                        Risukage Existential Complex

                        It's not a sailboat, it's a schooner! ;)
                         
                          Alkanthe, Gabaw and Kid Absurdity like this.
                        • Kid Absurdity

                          Kid Absurdity Void-Bound Voyager

                          A schooner is a sailboat, stupid-head! :poke:
                           
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                          • Gabaw

                            Gabaw Scruffy Nerf-Herder

                            Are you guys quoting Kris Kristofferson in The Highwayman? Eyyyyyy. Anyhoot. It's pretty obvious who Archie is after. The real question is, will you choose to have her hair purple, teal, or the natural brown? HEYOOO! Not getting swerved today, fool! Tho now that Archie is forced to accept the existence of forest spirits, i wonder what other aspects of him will change to accommodate this new worldview, if at all. He seems like a decent fellow but the bad taste of the festival seems to be lingering. i feel bad for the guy but I'm also hoping that things settle down a bit and he can enjoy Pelican Town a little more in the midst of all this other commotion. also. SAVE PENNY OMG!!
                             
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                            • Kid Absurdity

                              Kid Absurdity Void-Bound Voyager

                              Archie may not be able to save Penny alone. If only there were some ally he could turn to in this matter that I just foreshadowed.

                              Oh it's Sam, RIP Penny I guess.
                               
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                              • MagicallyClueless

                                MagicallyClueless Giant Laser Beams

                                stuff shall hAPPEN!!!
                                as always, i love your sam. he is such a bundle of sunshine and mischievousness. i really like the last paragraph of this chapter for that reason. (what maru say to seb, tho???? inquiring sebastian fangirls must know )

                                i really like the direction of your fic and i look forward to what comes next! seems like we'll be running into ~shenanigans~
                                 
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                                • Kid Absurdity

                                  Kid Absurdity Void-Bound Voyager


                                  This chapter is much better now than its previous draft, but this f^*#ing chapter also entailed the largest-scale rewrite I ever had to do, because a big part of the first draft suuuuucked and I absolutely hated it. More details on that in the post-writing note, but that's why this is posted later than I had hoped. I think you'll enjoy it, though.




                                  The next morning, a misty one that gave way to the sun, Archie powered through his farm chores, feeling invigorated without any particular reason for it. He put it down to the fact that he was taking clear-cut steps toward getting his life in order, even if those involved Junimo scrolls and wizards. He was also somewhat excited to spend some time with Abigail, since they hadn’t really spent any one-on-one time since his second day in town. After showering, and briefly calling Sandy – leaving her a message to let her know that he had gotten her phone number after all, and to tentatively arrange to meet up the following weekend, Archie grabbed up the copy of Yoba and other Ferngill Spirits he had taken out from the library and sat down at the kitchen table to read it while his lunch was warming up on the ancient stovetop. He leafed past the birch bark scroll to where the blank page before the table of contents would be only to find that it wasn’t blank.

                                  “We are the Junimos.” Archie read with excitement and trepidation. There was more text below it, but he anxiously flipped to the next page, and started reading: “We are the Junimos.” They were the Junimos, and he was very confused. He kept reading.

                                  “You are the son of the daughter.” Archie found that odd too – he was, no doubt, his maternal grandfather’s grandson, but something pointed to his grandfather being of particular importance, beyond Lewis’ story of him seeking the Junimos out all those years ago.

                                  ”We have seen you, you have seen us.” “But will I again,” Archie thought.

                                  “We are Keepers of the Forest. The Town is in the Forest. The People are in the Town.” That, at least, was reassuring.

                                  “The People left the Town. The Town grew bitter. The Town grew small. The Junimos Kept the Forest. The Junimos helped the People. The People learned Community. The People learned Harmony. The Junimos were happy. The Junimos Big Helped the People. The People forgot Community. The People forgot Harmony. The Junimos Kept the Forest. The Junimos helped the People.” Archie couldn’t tell whether the Junimos’ version of the recent history of the town saw them vary the help they gave the humans of Pelican Town, but he could only imagine so.

                                  “Son of the Daughter, help the People remember Community. Help the People remember Harmony. The Junimos will Big Help the People when they remember.”

                                  Archie grabbed a notebook and a pen, with the idea of jotting down some ideas as to how he would actually do that. He stared at the notebook, lost in thought as his lunch overcooked slightly. No ideas came. He ate his lunch, straining to think of something – still no ideas came.

                                  After eating a fitful lunch, he bounded off toward the general store at around 1:30. The town square was busier than usual that Sunday afternoon. Leah, Sam, and Sebastian were standing by the saloon, having a conversation, with Sebastian leaning up against the wall and having a smoke. Maru and Penny were reading books in the main square. All of them waved back politely when Archie got their attention on his way to the store.

                                  As usual, Pierre was behind the counter and Abigail was stocking shelves, though this time there was the sound of loud dance music coming from the hall adjoining the store. Archie greeted Pierre with as much politeness as he could muster, the shopkeeper’s passive-aggression beginning to rather tick him off. Pierre, though aggravated at Archie in general, greeted him coolly but politely himself, and his attitude seemed to soften a bit after Archie’s large seed purchase, as well as a muffin and a ham and cheese sandwich for the road.

                                  “I didn’t think either of you cared for this kind of music,” Archie said.

                                  “Give me an opera over it any day,” Pierre replied, “the women do dance aerobics classes in the function hall on Sunday afternoons. Physical fitness is important.”

                                  Abigail snorted a bit derisively at that but otherwise said nothing while Pierre glared at her. Looking to defuse the tension a bit, Archie told Pierre he wanted to make an appointment with him to discuss optimizing his crop proportions for the coming summer. Looking a bit relieved that Archie was taking the whole business of agriculture seriously, as well as the prospect of making more money than in the previous seasons off of him, he readily agreed to meet him the following week. But then, Archie managed to annoy Pierre again very easily.

                                  “So, are you about ready for our appointment?” He asked Abigail.

                                  She nodded eagerly. “I just have to stack some rhubarb and put some oil and vinegar on the shelves. Should be just a few minutes.”

                                  Abigail disappeared into the stockroom leaving Archie and Pierre alone.

                                  “Is this a date?” Pierre asked him.

                                  Archie shook his head. “She agreed to introduce me to one of the people I still haven’t met yet. I’ll be walking there with her alone, but it’s no date.”

                                  “Who’s that?”

                                  “Lewis told me about a so-called wizard…”

                                  Pierre tensed up, reddening with aggravation. He pinched the bridge of his nose, as though beset upon with a sudden headache. “Of course. I try to get Abigail to stay away from him and she just won’t listen. And now you’re dragging her over there.”

                                  Archie shrugged. He knew very well that he wasn’t dragging Abigail into anything, but he also thought that letting Pierre know that she eagerly volunteered may not be helpful either, so he deflected the responsibility onto a third-party. “I didn’t even know about him until yesterday. Lewis thought I should speak with him about the superstitions around the Flower Dance.”

                                  Pierre waved it off in annoyance. “Go ahead, just don’t linger with him.” He sighed, muttering something under his breath about Abigail that Archie couldn’t quite make out.

                                  It seemed to Archie that he was being placed in the position of having to defend people far more than he would have preferred lately, but it was not something he particularly shied away from. “Pierre,” he said, “your daughter is alright, and she’s going to stay that way.”

                                  Pierre’s annoyance softened slightly, being replaced incrementally by curiosity. “I don’t see it like that at all. She’s not really developing. She’s still rebellious and immature, still into her childish occult nonsense, her friends are all maladjusted. I love my daughter, but I don’t think she’s alright.”

                                  Archie didn’t appreciate the implication, but decided to let Pierre off the hook rather than lambast him this time since he was showing some sort of empathy and vulnerability instead of just being a dick. “Anyone around our age would chafe in a town this small, Pierre.” The older man nodded at that. “And our friends have all got a rebellious streak, but their values are good. I’d rather Abigail and I have friends like that than some phony that looks good on paper but would be the first to stick the knife in.”

                                  Pierre lowered his head in thought.

                                  “Pierre, I disagree with you about her,” he continued, “but I understand you. You worry about how all those things you see as negative will come across to an outsider. Speaking as one, they’re not nearly as big a deal as her positive qualities.”

                                  “And those are?”

                                  “Start looking for them and find out for yourself. You’re her father, it’s your job.”

                                  Any rejoinder Pierre might have had was cut short when Abigail emerged from the stockroom with a box full of vinegar bottles. She started gingerly striding over toward the shelf she’d be stocking when she noticed her father looking off. “Are you alright, dad?”

                                  “I’ll be fine, thanks, Abigail,” he said, standing up and making his way toward the front of the store. “I’m going to get a couple of minutes of air. You don’t mind waiting ‘til I get back?”

                                  Neither Archie not Abigail had any objections. After Pierre left the store Abigail asked if he had any idea what had gotten into Pierre. “Yes,” he said, and that was all. Abigail didn’t press the issue, figuring there would be a whole afternoon for that.

                                  After a couple of minutes of only slightly awkward standing around, Pierre came back in. “Your friends are outside,” he said, surprising Abigail.

                                  “You didn’t tell them about this?” She asked Archie, who shook his head. A bit confused, the two of them left the store to find Sam, Sebastian, Leah, and Penny standing outside waiting for them.

                                  “Hey, you two,” Sam greeted them, “your outing to see the wizard sounded pretty interesting when you were discussing it yesterday.”

                                  Abigail looked indignant. “How in the world did you do so well at Journey of the Prairie King while eavesdropping on us, jerkface?” Her priorities were clearly in order.

                                  Sam smiled and shrugged. “You’re loud when you’re excited and, unlike you, I got good at the game, anyway, I invited Sebastian and Leah when I left the saloon.”

                                  “And Penny?” Archie asked.

                                  “I called her this morning,” Sam replied. “She wrapped up spending some time with Maru and was free to join us.”

                                  “Maru didn’t want to?” Archie asked again.

                                  Sam shrugged again as Sebastian looked slightly more uncomfortable than usual. “She had a project of her own to do. She wishes us luck.”

                                  Archie though perhaps mildly annoyed, gave the matter a bit of thought. “Alright, everyone’s more than welcome for the nature walk to the Wizard’s Tower,” turning to face Sam specifically, he added “everyone who agrees to the same conditions Abigail did is welcome to my conversation with him unless he says otherwise.”

                                  There was a momentary commotion since Sam never mentioned anything about conditions, since he probably assumed Archie forgot about setting any. After being asked, Archie repeated the conditions, that anything about the Flower Dance and the aftermath was for everyone to hear, everything about his family wasn’t, and everything else was to be discussed. Leah, Sebastian, and Penny readily agreed, while Sam decided to make more of a fuss about it until Penny hugged him from behind and urged him to let it go and get going, which silenced Sam’s objections lickety-split. Archie made the suggestion that they walk over toward the Wizard’s tower at a leisurely pace so that they could all to enjoy the weather and the forest together. Only Sebastian was slightly put off, but not enough so to object out loud.

                                  Leah and Abigail took the lead, Leah because she could point out interesting things about the forest’s flora and fauna, and Abigail because she knew exactly where the wizard’s tower was, assuming he didn’t just magically relocate it on a whim or every Tuesday or whatever other magical scenario Archie could conjure to mind. They picked some mushrooms of different sorts and Leah admonished everyone not to eat the red ones. Mostly, they talked, and they did so in a larger group than they ever typically did, which made the whole day feel strange, different, and exciting on the basis of them learning more about each other, even without taking into account the fact that they were going to see a wizard. To Archie’s surprise, Penny did most of the mediation. While holding Sam’s hand for basically the whole way, she asked Abigail and Leah lots of questions about the forest and the wizard, and she connected their answers to something about someone else in the group, bringing them all into a wider discussion as they tried to piece together some of the puzzle around the Flower Dance for themselves:

                                  “Mom never mentioned anything about superstitions around how it went,” Penny said. Pam had been in Pelican Town the longest of any of their parents, and Penny was born and spent most of her life in Pelican Town.

                                  “Mine either,” Abigail agreed. “Or dad, but he doesn’t care about that sort of thing.”

                                  Archie and Leah, being new to the town, looked to each other and shrugged, while Sam and Sebastian started arguing a bit more about why none of the older generation ever mentioned it to them. While they speculated about reasons, Archie was beginning to formulate an idea of his own about and he wasn’t sure he liked the implications of that idea. If everyone actually knew what the Junimos wanted, would they ever be able to do those things freely rather than out of selfish self-interest? And if he had a large chunk of the town about to learn it from the Wizard, or his own newfound knowledge, what would happen then? Was there any difference if only one person – Archie – knew about it? If the Junimos told him to do stuff and he did it, that was all well and good, but if he did those things freely without their direct intervention, wouldn’t that be better?

                                  Archie’s philosophical wanderings and daydreaming came to a halt as the silhouette of the Wizard’s Tower became visible through the tree-line against the sky, with a strangely-shaped and large refracting telescope poking out of an upper window. They still had some walking to do to get to the tower and to keep the conversation fresh, Leah changed the subject by asking what everyone dreamed of doing with their lives. Some of the answers surprised Archie in terms of their content, others in terms of their tone. Sam excitedly discussed how he wanted to be a rock star, matching Leah’s enthusiasm for art. Abigail wanted to go off on adventures, hence the archaeology classes, while Sebastian insisted, with some vehemence, that he didn’t have lofty professional goals beyond leaving Pelican Town forever and doing the same sort of programming work he was already doing in one of the big cities. In contrast, Penny was much more forlorn, even sad-sounding, in spite of her current work, when she mentioned that she wanted to be a teacher. Archie mentioned how his aspirations were changing. He wanted to work in the theatre, and while the farm was about the furthest thing from it, he was excited to try to do farming well and try to make his mark locally. He mentioned his businesswoman sister who made big strides in Gallibrand City, but who couldn’t see her contributions compared to the sheer size of the place she lived. In a town of 35, Archie could see whatever difference he’d eventually make. Sebastian looked pensive but not dissuaded, whereas it seemed to resonate a bit more with Penny, probably considering her work tutoring Vincent and Jas.

                                  Eventually they came to a clearing with a pond in it, from which the trail to the Wizard’s tower was clearly visible. Archie was struck by how surreal the whole thing was – him being here, a wizard being here, a wizard being a thing compared to the hyper-rational city, the works. He gaped at the tower, a bit dumbfounded by it, as Abigail led the rest of the group on, leaving Archie to follow them. A few minutes and some small-talk later, the group had stopped at the base of the stairs leading up to the tower’s door, leaving space for Archie to walk up to the landing and knock on the heavy oak door. There were no metal knockers build into it, and Archie hardly imagined that him knocking would carry very loudly at all as he brought his arm up, pulled his hand back, and swung it forward toward the door, which swung open of its own accord before his knuckles touched it, leaving Archie momentarily confused.

                                  He looked through the door and there was no one in sight, and he waited, uncertain about whether he should proceed.

                                  An unseen voice boomed out from somewhere in the tower. “All of you can come in!”

                                  Archie leading the way, followed closely behind by Abigail, they entered the tower. Archie didn’t know what he expected a Wizard’s tower to look like, but he wasn’t quite expecting what he got. Dusty old tomes sat atop neat, modern bookshelves that looked like they came from a flat-pack furniture warehouse store. A large cauldron was bubbling over a fire pit dug into the stone floor, not far from a modular dining table with a tasteful place setting. The tower had a hint of the earthy smell the community centre did, emanating from that cauldron, though not nearly so intense.

                                  The Wizard appeared, though not how Archie expected given the booming voice he’d just heard from what he thought was the entryway. Rather than literally appearing, he walked briskly down the stairway from further up the tower, also surprising Archie in the fact that he looked much more like a cowboy than like how he imagined a wizard would look. He wore a black cowboy hat over his unnaturally purple hair - even considering man-made dyes as natural - black pants, and a black and gold poncho. He had a distant look in his eyes.

                                  “I’m not used to visitors, and definitely not this many at once,” the wizard’s voice brimmed with a frenetic energy, “so tell me what this is all about.”

                                  Archie pulled out the birch bark scroll from inside the book and glanced at it. It still showed the Junimos strange sigils on it, so he asked everyone, including the Wizard, to gather around him to take a look at it. “Lewis said the Flower Dance was a ritual to renew the Junimos’ blessings on the town and that I ruined that. This is what the Junimos had to say about that, but I can’t read it.”

                                  “If you can’t read it, how would you know that’s what it is?” Sam immediately challenged him.

                                  “I’m impressed you’re going that far along with it, I’d expect the first response to be ‘there are no Junimos’,” Archie replied.

                                  “Still,” Sam shot back.

                                  “I’m expecting they’d write something important instead of a grocery list. Dear farmer, bring us 5 stalks of corn, and we will save the town.”

                                  While that was going on, Leah, Abigail, Sebastian and Penny were looking at the scroll and making no more sense of it than Archie did the first time he looked at it. The Wizard gave it a cursory glance and then looked toward Archie, and Sam, whose momentum in the argument carried him into a rapid babble of talk.

                                  “Be silent!” The Wizard yelled at them.

                                  “Huh? Was that a spell or something? I can still talk,” Sam said.

                                  “No,” the Wizard sighed, “I just hoped you’d be surprised enough that I yelled at you that you’d actually shut up. I can decipher the scroll, but it will take time, energy, and because of those, payment. I sense the magical energies of purple mushrooms. Give me those and I’ll translate the scroll for you.”

                                  Archie handed him the couple that he picked, remarking that he thought the Wizard would just use magic to do it instantly. The Wizard countered that proper magic was a matter of painstaking research and precision, save for a few basic incantations.

                                  “Like turning people into frogs?” Sam asked.

                                  The Wizard shook his head.

                                  “Or putting someone to sleep for a hundred years?” he continued. The Wizard shook his head again. After a few more guesses, the Wizard glared at Sam.

                                  “Abra-bazinga,” he said, as Sam’s mouth kept moving as if he was talking but no more sounds issued forth. “Now, purple mushrooms, please,” he said to the rest of the group. They all handed over their mushrooms, Penny, Abigail, and Sebastian, eagerly, and Leah reluctantly. Sam hadn’t picked any because he was allergic to mushrooms, which was probably just as well because he wouldn’t have been in a rush to hand them over to the wizard at that moment.

                                  They bade each other goodbye and left the tower, and as soon as the tower door shut, Sam’s voice returned.

                                  “Wow, what a jackass, silencing me like that. All I was trying to do was learn what a simple incantation did. Is that so wrong?” Sebastian and Penny began cracking up. “And I still don’t know. What a load of crap.”

                                  The group walked back through the forest, a bit faster returning than they did on the way as the coolness of evening was already setting in. They speculated about what the Junimo scroll might say, and reflected on how they enjoyed the day together. Archie invited everyone to have dinner at the saloon, but no one was in a position to take him up on it. Sebastian and Sam had their Solarion Chronicles game, Abigail had a family dinner, Leah was working on an art piece, and Penny avoided the saloon as a matter of principle. As they got closer to town and people split off to go on their separate ways, Archie asked Penny to speak with him a bit longer, which, though looking a bit surprised, she obliged him as they started walking toward the trailer.

                                  “Thanks for coming,” he told her, “I wasn’t expecting anyone else, but I’m especially glad you were there to keep the talking going. You were really good at keeping everyone involved.”

                                  Penny laughed shyly. “I do it with Jas and Vincent all the time, if they didn’t have as much in common, I have no idea how I’d teach them nearly as effectively.”

                                  “About that,” Archie added, “you said teaching was your dream?”

                                  She nodded, that sad, forlorn look returning.

                                  “I don’t understand how you’re looking so sad about doing your dream thing.”

                                  “Oh,” she replied, “the two of them are great, don’t get me wrong, but that wasn’t what I had in mind. It’s more of something I managed to scrape together. Before you moved here, I was studying to be a teacher at Ferngill National University.”

                                  “Which campus?” he asked. He was curious about it since he had studied theatre at the Gallibrand City Campus.

                                  “Gallibrand City,” she told him, to his surprise.

                                  “No way! I grew up there, and did my degree there too. It’s a long way away, though.”

                                  Penny nodded. “I liked the city well enough, but the university especially. I miss having a group of people who were motivated by the same thing. Did you study theatre?”

                                  The two of them arrived at the trailer. Penny put her ear to the door for a few seconds, and then pulled her head away from it, looking relieved.

                                  “I did,” Archie answered, “and it was a similar experience studying with some people who were passionate about it. Making theatre, trying things… But what happened?”

                                  “Mom couldn’t afford to send me with her job as the bus driver, but I got a scholarship that covered the tuition and a bit of the rent. When she lost her job and got sick, I had to come back and look after her. Now she’s gotten worse with no sign of improving, my scholarship’s lapsed, and I don’t think I’ll ever get back there to finish.”

                                  Penny looked devastated saying it, though she did with a surprising degree of calmness, as if she’d long since come to terms.

                                  “No online courses?”

                                  She shook her head. “Field placements, and this doesn’t count, it’s not in a school.”

                                  Archie sighed. “That sucks.”

                                  Penny was more philosophical about it. “It’s strange. Teaching the children is a lifeline but it’s also a painful reminder that I’m stuck at the same time.”

                                  “What’s keeping you here? Is it just the money?”

                                  “Well, there is that. But I couldn’t turn my back on mom. No way.” There was an adamant edge in her voice. “Not after what it did to her when dad did.”

                                  Archie was silent for a long while. “I’m sorry,” he said lamely.

                                  Penny shrugged. “It’s not ideal, but sometimes you have to let go of dreams to make reality work.”

                                  Archie, in his idealism, wasn’t convinced. “Sometimes they’re still there to be picked back up. I hope you manage to sooner than later.”

                                  Penny opened the door to the trailer and climbed the single step leading into her home. “Thanks for the sentiment, Archie. I think I’ve given up on this one, though. Have a good night.” She shut the door gently and locked it.

                                  Archie sat on the step for a long while, thinking about the whole situation. He felt like he should do something, and in the context of the Junimos and restoring the town he felt like he had to do something, but he had no idea what to do, and how to make it work in this delicate situation. He slowly rose and started his walk home with a troubled mind.



                                  Some goals here were to get more into the Junimo folklore I was trying to establish earlier, try some larger ensemble scenes, and kickstart a sub-plot around Penny. I think her development there is a bit of a stretch from the source material, but pretty realistic when you consider a lot of details.

                                  Originally, there was going to be much more dialogue with the Wizard and exposition in the tower, but it felt super-weak because it robbed the characters of agency, so the magical book alteration was a late edit to try to solve that.
                                   
                                    Last edited: Sep 25, 2016
                                  • Gabaw

                                    Gabaw Scruffy Nerf-Herder

                                    "You're her father, it's your job." Dayum! You tell em! also RIP at abra-bazinga lmao :rofl: Sometimes I forget how bad Penny's situation was before I swooped in. Family, can't live with em, can't live without em...
                                     
                                    • Risukage

                                      Risukage Existential Complex

                                      Totally picturing Merlin's tower from Disney's Sword in the Stone here. :D

                                      And I like the bit of fast but insightful exposition en route to The Wizard of Oz- errr, Pelican Town, it added a bit of depth and background to everyone, and gave perspective to their actions and motivations. And oh, that knife-twist with Penny, mate. Heck to everyone else, give her a happy resolution. :p
                                       
                                        Gabaw likes this.
                                      • Kid Absurdity

                                        Kid Absurdity Void-Bound Voyager

                                        So THAT chapter took a while for a lot of reasons. Perfectionism is one, considering the direction of plot movements another, trying to go from Kid Absurdity into Adult Absurdity with a job and stuff is another. I'm doubtful of getting back to the weekly Thursday updates until the end of November, because I am intending to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year, with the goal of cranking out a 50000 word novel during the month that will be an original work rather than a fan piece. I'll try to get another couple of chapters out in October, and the pace of the story (and time compression) is going to quicken significantly from here now that the backstories are pretty fully in place.



                                        Archie’s concerns for Penny, the town, and Junimo quests quickly shifted to percolating on the back burner as a set of his own concerns came up. A few days after the trip to the Wizard’s tower, he received two pieces of mail. The first was from Harvey, informing him that the blood test requisition from Archie’s old doctor in Gallibrand City had arrived and that he could come by and take the test whenever. The second was from the Wizard, saying that the translation was finished – and listed on the letter. Archie was curious as to whether the Wizard would get it right, and to the latter’s credit, the translation did basically match what Archie read in the book in terms of content though not in terms of writing style. Whatever else he might think about the Wizard and his arcane abilities, he was correct about something that would be exceedingly hard to guess.

                                        The spring was verging toward its end with a series of rainy days forecast to send the season off, which left Archie with less to do around the farm. He could continue hacking at grass and trees, and chipping rocks in the rain, but it was much slower going and probably not worth the extra man-hours for what could be done much faster in any other weather. Given his harvest schedule before the season’s end, and following another moderately successful harvest, he realized that he had some time where he could justify taking a short break from farming, that as long as it kept raining, he’d have virtually no farm maintenance to do. A small vacation to another locale might renew his focus and sharpen his mind for coming up with solutions to the issues he was now faced with.

                                        He decided to look into options after getting his farm chores for the day and his medical business attended to, which, given the rain, he didn’t expect to take very long. A few hours later, the seeds he bought from Pierre were under tilled ground, getting gently hydrated, and he had eaten a proper lunch. He realized the Gunther had never sent him the anthropologist’s field notes, and so he resolved to visit the library to find out what happened as well. Walking past the bus stop, Archie felt his eyes getting drawn to the rusting metal hulk, once a crucial lifeline for the townsfolk to get around, two of them in particular, and he stood transfixed a short while, his mood a tangled swirl of sadness and aggravation. He hadn’t even noticed that Abigail was taking a walk along the road until she snapped him out of his reverie by tapping him on the shoulder.

                                        “It’s not that fascinating, Archie,” she told him.

                                        Archie took a deep breath. “Until Penny told me about that bus yesterday, I would have agreed with you. Those poor women.”

                                        Abigail shrugged. “I feel for Penny. She tries so hard. Pam, I think we were all sympathetic for a while, but she’s just wallowed in it since.”

                                        “Penny said Pam was sick.” Archie said.

                                        Abigail started shaking her head, and then stopped abruptly. “Sort of.”

                                        “Sort of?” Archie repeated, uncertainly.

                                        “I’m not really comfortable discussing it, Archie.”

                                        He nodded. “Where you walking to?”

                                        “The store, eventually, I wanted to see if any of the flowers here grew back in since the Dance. Bit too early, I think.”

                                        “I’m going to the clinic today, I’ll walk with you. It’ll make up for the bigger group cutting into our solo adventuring time.”

                                        Abigail giggled. “Is that what you thought it was?”

                                        “You keep saying you want to go on adventures and that was the closest I’ve gotten to one here. I got to see you in your element a bit, which was cool, but there were a lot of distractions. Eighty percent of them were named Sam.”

                                        “I still can’t believe he did that.”

                                        “It surprised me too, his hearing is sharp as a bat’s, but I’m glad he did it.”

                                        “Me too, it was fun. Did you hear back from the Wizard yet?”

                                        Archie nodded and tapped a couple of fingers on his jacket pocket. “Yep. I don’t know if I should share it in detail just yet; not because I don’t trust you, but because it might complicate this whole Junimo thing a whole lot, but if it’s any consolation, the town isn’t doomed and you’ll be the first person I’ll tell. ”

                                        Abigail smiled warmly. “I’ll hold you to that.”

                                        They walked into town, and arrived at the building housing the clinic and the general store. Lewis was standing just outside the general store entrance, looking at the bulletin board when he noticed them walking up.

                                        “Good afternoon, you two.”

                                        Abigail nodded in way of greeting, while Archie offered a more ebullient hello before asking Lewis about how best to get to Cactus Town by bus.

                                        “You can get a bus there from Hub Town. They run hourly from there,” Lewis started. “Off to visit your dance partner, or just desperate to get out of the rain?”

                                        Archie burst out laughing. “I didn’t think you had that in you, old man. What’s on the bulletin board today?”

                                        “Sebastian wants a Jade for some reason.”

                                        “That’s weird.” Abigail and Archie said simultaneously, immediately afterward exchanging a look and laughing, before Archie cut it all short. “Anyway, I’ve got business at the clinic, so have a good day, both of you,” they waved as Archie entered the building through the clinic door and Abigail headed to the store.

                                        Maru was working at the front of the clinic when Archie walked in, and looked surprised to see him in spite of the multiple reminders she gave him about the blood test. “Hi, Archie,” she greeted him, her tone professional, “come for the blood test?”

                                        “Yep, are you drawing the blood, or is Harvey?”

                                        Maru shrugged. “His choice. I’ve done it before, depends if he wants to supervise or do it himself. Grab a seat in the waiting room and I’ll go get him, but how was your walk the other day?”

                                        “Actually really pleasant, and I’d have never guessed Penny would be that good at steering a group conversation. It’s too bad you couldn’t join us.”

                                        Maru shook her head. “I don’t think Sebastian would have been nearly so agreeable if I did. It’s a shame, though. I needed some iron for something I’m building, so I went mining instead.”

                                        “I still haven’t tried it,” Archie replied, “two questions – is it enjoyable, and did you happen to find any Jade?”

                                        “Yes to both, actually. It’s physical and a bit tedious, but it’s fulfilling pulling something out of the earth.” She paused, and then laughed a little. “Now that I think about it it’s kind of like your job – I don’t know if you’d enjoy a hobby that’s quite that close to it. I did find a piece of jade, though.”

                                        “Sebastian put up a note up on the notice board that he’s looking for one.”

                                        “Huh.” Maru said. “That’s weird.”

                                        “Why?”

                                        “I can’t imagine what he wants it for. He likes Frozen Tears way more, and Abigail prefers amethysts. I wonder what that’s all about.”

                                        “Maybe it’s to match his jaded attitude,” Archie joked.

                                        Maru laughed, and then swatted him on the shoulder. “Bad farmer. No geology puns.”

                                        “But geology rocks!”

                                        “We’ll use a thick needle,” she threatened jokingly. “Go wait in the examination room, we’ll be right there.”

                                        Archie plodded over to the examination room, and slouched into the chair, rolling up his left sleeve and shifting his elbow in the gap in the arm-rest, looking for a comfortable position for it. Shortly thereafter, Harvey and Maru walked in, and Harvey took control of matters much more assertively than when Archie popped in to say hello the first time.

                                        “Alright, Archie, before we get started, there are a couple of things I want to discuss with you.”

                                        “Sure thing, doc,” he replied, not sure what there was to discuss in particular.

                                        “Great. First off, I’d like Maru to practice her phlebotomy, if that’s alright with you. I’ll supervise it closely.”

                                        “Oh, that’s fine,” Archie said feeling quite relaxed about that whole idea.

                                        “The second thing is about whether you’d be willing to share details of your health history with her, or whether you’d prefer not to.”

                                        “It’s confidential either way, right?”

                                        “Yes.” Harvey said simply, with Maru nodding her assent.

                                        “Alright. I’m fine with both.”

                                        “Great,” Harvey said, “it’ll be a good learning experience for her. Alright, Maru, the requisition’s right here, set up the collection vials and see what your best guess as to what we’re looking for in the tests is before you start.”

                                        Maru picked up the clipboard with the requisition on it, and quickly skimmed the categories, picking out four vials, one each with a red, orange, blue, and purple cap, sticking a label to each one, before preparing the needle, whereupon she looked at the list of blood markers more carefully for a minute, murmuring to herself as she considered each entry until…

                                        “Wait a second, Harvey, why is there a test for alpha feto-protein? That’s a pregnancy hormone.”

                                        “Great spot, Maru, it does belong there, along with one other odd-hormone-out.”

                                        She kept looking a while longer before walking over to one of the bookshelves and pulling down a medical dictionary. A minute later, she was satisfied with her result. “Beta HCG. Another pregnancy hormone, and, according to that manual, it’s also a cancer tumour marker.”

                                        “Excellent work, Maru.” Both the doctor and nurse were smiling broadly, and Archie was at least a bit impressed by the wannabe engineer’s approach and acumen. “Those two markers combined, are a strong indicator of cancers, especially in men and children, but also in women who aren’t pregnant. How long since you were treated for yours, Archie?”

                                        “Just over two years since the surgery and radiation treatments,” he answered, shifting in the chair a bit uncomfortably. “Got to make sure they got it all on a twice-a-year basis.”

                                        “That you do,” Harvey said, “alright, Maru, you can get started.”

                                        Maru wrapped a tourniquet around his bicep and swabbed over part of his upper arm with rubbing alcohol before pulling a sanitized needle from its packaging and preparing it, and the vials. Maru asked him what the treatment was like, and as he was describing the crippling nausea that accompanied his first radiation treatment, the one before they told him to take anti-emetics first, she deftly stuck the needle into one of his veins and, one-by-one, filled the vials, before removing the needle, swabbing the puncture, and bandaging it.

                                        “Stick around for a few minutes to make sure the puncture seals, but we should get the results back from the lab in about a week,” she said.

                                        “What lab?” Archie asked.

                                        “We have an agreement with one of the clinics in Hub Town. I’ll drive your samples over later today,” Harvey said.

                                        “Mind if I catch a ride with you?” Archie asked, “I’m heading there anyway to catch a bus to the desert.”

                                        “Do you have sunscreen?” Harvey asked in turn.

                                        “No,” Archie answered.

                                        “Go next door and buy some, then we can go whenever. My next appointment isn’t for a couple of hours and it’s a shorter return drive than you waiting for the bus. You fine to hold down the fort, Maru?”

                                        “As long as nothing catastrophic happens in the next half an hour or so, sure,” she said.

                                        Archie waited the requisite few minutes and then stepped out to duck into the store to buy sunscreen, before quickly returning. “Are you always that insistent?” he asked his doctor.

                                        “Yes. I take my patients’ health seriously. Also, you’re a redhead without freckles, and you don’t need to be a doctor to guess how the desert sun will go for you without sunscreen. Also also, you just had a blood test for cancer markers.”

                                        Archie paused to take all of that in. “Points taken. Thanks for the lift, and the medical advice.”

                                        They walked behind the clinic to where Harvey parked his old station wagon, which was hardly the status symbol car of city doctors, though it was meticulously clean. After Harvey unlocked his door, manually, and let Archie in, Archie ducked into the passenger-side seat.

                                        “This is actually my first time going to Hub Town since I moved here,” he remarked.

                                        “It’s not especially interesting of a place, but the variety is nice sometimes. Different shops and restaurants, and I go watch movies at the theatre there sometimes.”

                                        “Prefer any genre in particular?”

                                        “War movies.”

                                        “That is about the last thing I would have guessed.”

                                        “I wanted to be a pilot. Couldn’t do it with these, though,” he said, tapping his fairly thick-lensed glasses. “It’s a bit of living vicariously.”

                                        “I have a sort-of-related question,” Archie began, “how did you come to be the doctor here, of all places? It’s not exactly glamourous, and, no offense to your car, it doesn’t seem to pay like the city does.”

                                        Harvey sighed slightly but answered in a fairly good-natured way: “Connections. The previous doctor retired and was looking for someone to sell his practice to. I was graduating med school and my father knew a friend of his. It doesn’t pay like the city, but this time next year, my debts will be paid off. It’s a good thing the governor still thinks it’s worth putting some money into the clinic.”

                                        Archie nodded. “Has it been like you imagined?”

                                        “Pretty much, save for the slower pace. I do sometimes get lonely; it’s a very small town to begin with, and not everyone who wants to get close to their physician.”

                                        “I never thought about it that way,” he said.

                                        The rest of the car ride was relatively quieter, though still pleasant enough. Harvey pointed out where the larger clinic with the medical lab was, along with some of the other landmarks in the town before dropping Archie off at the bus stop. It didn’t seem like anyone else was going to the desert that day, as Archie had the bus to himself when it arrived a few minutes later. He watched out the window as the bus pulled out along the forest-bounded highway, and through the mountain pass, westward and inland. The trees gave way to scrub, and the scrub soon gave way to sand and isolated palm trees. The bus got warm in spite of the air conditioning.

                                        While Archie thought that Pelican Town’s bus stop was deserted, the Eastern Desert bus stop was even more in the middle of nowhere. Cactus Town was a mere 10 minutes away, but there was very little out here but sand, the lower-case “o” oasis, and the uppercase “O” Oasis. He phoned Sandy.

                                        “Darling!” She greeted him. He was amused at how low the bar was for her to call someone darling, but it was a bit flattering nonetheless.

                                        “I made it to the desert,” he told her. “I’m looking forward to seeing you.”

                                        “That’s wonderful – do you mind exploring for a bit by yourself, I should wrap up here in about 40 minutes.”

                                        Archie didn’t mind. “Sure, any sights to see?”

                                        “There are a few. You can’t miss them,” she said, with a hint of mischief, “but definitely wait for me to catch the view out to sea from the cliffs.”

                                        “Great, I’ll meet you soon.” They hung up.

                                        Archie wandered around in the desert, keeping an eye on the road lest he find himself without a point of reference. One of these days he’d have to buy a compass. He found the oasis to the north, an impressive freshwater pond considering that it was in a desert, on a sea-facing plateau. There were even fish swimming in it, and flowering cacti around it. The natural features of the valley were distinctive and surprising, and the surrounding areas also had their own wonders and charms. A higher peak nearby housed the cave, with a mysterious door with a massive skull on it. The cave was a welcome reprieve from the sun and heat, and Archie was glad that he had the sunscreen on hand.

                                        When he ventured out into the desert again he stubbed his foot on a coconut half-buried in the sand, which he picked up to examine. He didn’t know much about coconuts at all, but it might be something someone back in town would want. They were pretty creative with their cooking, and exotic ingredients were always welcome. A bit further away still was a colossal dinosaur skeleton, which Archie thought was unbelievably cool. As a kid he found dinosaurs and paleontology fascinating, and while he never grew out of it, he did prioritize learning other things. He made a note to suggest that Penny take Jas and Vincent to see it, especially since it was in the middle of the desert and completely free to look at. In fact, Archie marveled at the fact that no one had carved their initials into the bones in spite of the lack of apparent supervision of the skeleton.

                                        He paced around it, trying to remember what kind of dinosaur it might have been, and his memory failed him. There was no informational plaque.

                                        The heat started to wear on him a bit as more and more time passed, and he decided that the air conditioned store would be as good a place as any to wrap up his first stage of exploration. It seemed very large for a store, even by city standards, and the architecture looked rather new and modern, which seemed surprising in a waterless backwater like the Eastern Calico Desert was. The stock wasn’t that dramatically different to Pierre’s save for a few sorts of things, though the daily special of ice cream was awfully tempting. He helped himself to an ice cream cone and walked up to the cash register, which was unoccupied, to pay for it. It was then that he noticed two things that were out of the ordinary; the sound of Sandy shouting at someone in the back storeroom, and the fact that there was a bouncer leading into the storeroom. A short time later, Sandy emerged from the back, looking flustered, though somewhat happier when she saw Archie holding an ice cream cone and some packets of starfruit seeds.

                                        “Shift’s over,” she told him. “Get a second cone for me, ice cream’s my treat. I can’t wait to leave today.”

                                        Archie dutifully grabbed a second cone, asking, “That employee you were yelling at going to be OK to handle it?”

                                        Sandy shook her head, looking a bit anxious. “Oh, that wasn’t an employee. It’s a long story.”

                                        “You know I’ve got questions, right?”

                                        “You always have questions.”

                                        “Well, you probably don’t go a day without a bunch of customers asking why there’s a bouncer leading into your stockroom.”

                                        Sandy sighed with vexation. “I don’t. The seeds cost 4000 Guilders. Can we get going, please?”

                                        Archie paid for his purchase and they left the store. Sandy walked him southward toward what he presumed were the cliffs looking out over the sea. They enjoyed their ice cream and each other’s presence in relative silence as Archie wished he also brought a hat. He should have borrowed the straw hat from Abigail when he had the chance, he lamented inwardly. A few minutes later, they reached a stone bench a few metres back from the edge of the plateau, and took a seat, looking out to a seemingly endless sea. Archie looked toward where he thought Pelican Town was, but couldn’t see that beach along the shore. Sandy laughed a little as she looked in the opposite direction. Archie looked that way and asked her what was there.

                                        “Past Cactus Town, Zuzu City is in that direction. You can get a similar view from the plateau down toward the city across the river, just with a skyline instead of water,” she told him.

                                        “Sounds nice,” Archie said, “though this view is relaxing.”

                                        “Yeah,” Sandy replied.

                                        “You seem like you can use the relaxation today,” he added.

                                        “I certainly can, that argument wound me right up, and to think, it was all about me leaving my own business early.”

                                        “That doesn’t make sense. You own the place, who’s going to tell you otherwise?”

                                        “The man who runs a social club out of part of the building had what to say about it, but it’s not his call. He just gets aggravated any time I leave work a bit early or go on vacation. He does pay a generous rent for the space, though.”

                                        “Huh,” Archie said, neither having expected her to explain it nor sure how complete of an explanation it was. “If you’re looking for someone with retail experience and a reasonable amount of discretion as a stand-in, I may know just the person.”

                                        “At the end of summer I may be looking for just that. I’d like a longer vacation.”

                                        Archie scooted closer to her and put an arm around her waist. “You’ll get it,” he said simply, “I may do well to take on a temporary farmhand so I can take one too, when I can afford it.” Sandy laughed and told him that if he was that obsessive about farming he’d probably be able to afford it sooner rather than later. They shared a few quiet moments and a quick kiss before Archie asked what she had in mind for them to do, since she knew the desert. The plan was dancing and live music at the Cactus Town Community Hall, and she assured him that it was not just for the old folks as they walked back to the store where she had parked her car. A very pale man in a dark duster and cowboy hat was leaning up against the front door to the store, prompting Sandy’s agitation to return.

                                        “Is that your social club guy?” Archie asked.

                                        “Yeah, that’s him,” She practically spat.

                                        The pale man called Sandy over, and she reluctantly parted from Archie to go and speak with him while Archie looked on in the parking lot. After a few minutes, Sandy returned to unlock her car when the man shouted for Archie to come over. Archie and Sandy exchanged a glance before he shrugged and walked over.

                                        “You’re not from the desert, where’d she meet you?” the pale man, who looked almost a pallid bluish-grey, asked.

                                        “In Pelican Town,” Archie replied flatly.

                                        “My goodness, what a pleasant surprise this is,” the man replied, not put off in the slightest by the cool reception. “Here I was, thinking there was nothing and no one interesting in Pelican Town, and suddenly there’s a new farmer with big plans who’s dating my business partner. Tell me, have you ever gone mining there?”

                                        “Not yet,” Archie replied.

                                        “Oh, you definitely should,” the pale man replied.

                                        “I may very well do that, mister…”

                                        “Qi. Mister Qi.”

                                        “Well I may well do some mining, Mister Qi. I hope we can square our respective demands on Sandy’s time.”

                                        Mr. Qi waved off Archie’s suggestion. “Go enjoy your date. Be seeing you, and by the way, it’s pronounced Qi.”

                                        “We will, and I thought Qi is what I said.”

                                        “With practice and coaching you’ll get it right. Don’t you worry. Remember. Qi.”

                                        What a strange guy, Archie thought as he walked back to the car. Mysterious, even.

                                        “What was that all about?” Sandy asked him.

                                        “He found the fact that we were dating interesting, and didn’t seem too concerned about your schedule. He also is the second person in as many days to suggest I give mining a try and apparently his name is subtly hard to pronounce.”

                                        “I think he’s interested in what people pull out of the mines, maybe does a bit of it himself. He keeps the store stocked on rare geodes.”

                                        “Is there really a market for rare geodes?” Archie asked with some incredulity.

                                        “Rarely.”

                                        They got into Sandy’s hatchback and drove into Cactus Town proper. It was definitely larger than Pelican Town, which was not difficult, but more densely packed, probably to efficiently distribute water. Sandy noticed Archie’s backpack bulging as he unslung it and set it on the floor.

                                        “What’s in the bag?” she asked.

                                        “I found a coconut while I was wandering around outside.”

                                        “Oh, that is perfect. I can make us a great soup with that after we go dancing.”

                                        They took a quick bite in town before the dancing started, with Archie pleased to eat some city foods he missed – while Gus was a versatile chef, the saloon felt limited in its selections sometimes, and Archie appreciated the sushi platter the two of them shared. They talked about culture; the respective cultural offerings in either town, which, for the moment, Cactus Town seemed to have Pelican Town, and even Hub Town, perhaps, beat. Archie mentioned the local folklore he’d learned about, with the Junimos and all that, though setting aside the visit to the wizard for the moment. Sandy admitted that she found the whole idea a bit ridiculous, but the desert had its own folklore with creatures like genies and the like, so who was she to talk?

                                        When they got to the Community Hall, it struck Archie that it was something like he imagined Pelican Town’s community centre to be in its prime, if larger still. It made him wish that Pelican Town’s were still usable for events like these. The hall had a large dance floor facing up onto an elevated stage, with an upstairs balcony. The bands, a rockabilly group and a swing jazz ensemble, were tuning their instruments as groups of friends congregated awaiting the performance and the dancing. Everyone was a stranger to him, and he imagined a decent enough number of them were to Sandy as well, given that Cactus Town was not that small. He was pretty excited to dance. He was no great shakes at it, but he had done some dance classes as part of his theatre training and he enjoyed her exuberance when dancing as well. Apparently, she enjoyed dancing with him too if this was her idea. Sandy introduced him to a few people, acquaintances of hers, who made no particular impression on him, when the rockabilly band started playing.

                                        Dancing with Sandy at this event was a very different experience to waltzing at the Flower Dance. If anything, Sandy was a bit more erratic in the way that she danced and Archie’s mood started at a much higher point so it didn’t spike upward like the week before. It was nice not to think about farm work or Junimos, just to focus on the music and the beautiful woman in front of him. They danced a long while until deciding to take a break and get a drink, then sipped on their glasses of wine watching some of the more experienced, and more unconventional, dancers, before one of Sandy’s acquaintances pulled her away for what Archie thought would be a few minutes. He kept drinking his wine and watching the dancers, and danced solo for a bit before realizing that over half an hour had passed. He walked a quick sweep of the lower floor, before deciding to check out the view from above, where he found Sandy and a couple of her friends laughing and in an animated conversation that left him feeling a bit conflicted. She could enjoy herself however she wanted, he thought, but it was their first date. He smiled and gave her a thumbs-up when she turned her head, then walked back downstairs. He’d dance and enjoy himself until she wrapped up. The rockabilly band had wrapped up and the swing orchestra began playing.

                                        About another ten minutes later, Sandy intercepted Archie on the dance floor and they quickly resumed their dancing. “Sorry about that,” she apologized, “childhood friend, and I haven’t seen her in years.”

                                        Archie shrugged, causing Sandy to shift the hand she had on his right shoulder. “It’s fine; introduce me afterward if you want.”

                                        “I may just,” Sandy said non-committally. By the end of the night, she hadn’t.

                                        At around midnight, the orchestra announced that it’d be the last song for the night, a slower, bluesier tune to wind the night down. They danced close together in silence as a mischievous smirk started to form on Archie’s face. As the song reached its final measures, Archie gently plucked her hand from his shoulder, led her out from his chest, and pulled her back toward her into a tango dip, planting a kiss on her lips before hauling her back up to standing.

                                        “How long were you waiting for to do that?” She asked him.

                                        “Since I saw you run into the meadow where the Flower Dance was,” he answered, deciding he may as well be honest about it.

                                        “Flatterer.” She smiled. He shrugged and smiled too, as they left the building.

                                        “Thanks for bringing me,” Archie told her, “That was a lot of fun.”

                                        “Glad you enjoyed it; it’s nice to have a dance partner for one of these.”

                                        “I have a hard time imagining you not having your pick of any dance partner in the place.”

                                        “Not everyone’s as smitten with me as you are, Archie,” she told him, and he wasn’t sure whether she was joking or not.

                                        It was a quiet drive back to Sandy’s small bungalow. It hadn’t occurred to Archie, in his haste to get to the desert; that the buses back to Pelican Town would have long since stopped running by the time the evening date would be at an end. Sandy, however, seemed to anticipate it with her talk of making soup earlier, which Archie felt a nervous thrill about. The pace of his first dates was not usually this accelerated. The house wasn’t especially large, but it was very modern in terms of its architecture and decoration – it had an open-plan layout with modern trimmings – a modular black leather couch, a large flat-screen TV, an impressive looking kitchen with top of the line gas appliances. Archie couldn’t help feel envious given that his first house, the farmhouse, didn’t even have a kitchen, but he also hadn’t thought he’d own a house for a decade until he opened that letter. Sandy busied herself with cooking Tom Kha soup, and making small-talk about the Desert and how wonderful it was while Archie continued to look around.

                                        They ate the soup in relative silence, save for Archie complimenting her on the soup being very good, though by then it was already pushing 1: 30 AM, far later than Archie was in the habit of going to sleep. He yawned in spite of himself, while Sandy hadn’t flagged a bit.

                                        “Help me clean up,” Sandy requested, “and then we’ll get some sleep.” Archie obliged her, the nervous thrill returning. While Sandy showered, he looked for a book to read, and found none around the house, just the odd magazine that wasn’t of particular interest to him. Maybe the books are all in her room, he thought. He flicked on the TV to see what was on the digital channels his farmhouse didn’t get but wound up settling on watching the Queen of Sauce anyway. When Sandy got out of the shower and had changed into her sleeping clothes, Archie took a fast shower as well. He had been distracted from the fact he needed one after all that dancing. After putting his pants back on and brushing his teeth with a spare brush, he rejoined Sandy in the living room, thinking she’d probably have him sleep on the couch. Sandy’s immediate plan for herself didn’t involve sleeping at all, as she swapped the channel to a movie. They cuddled up and watched it a bit, and the next thing Archie knew, he woke up on that couch the next morning, with her in his arms, and a pain in his neck because that couch was not nearly as comfortable to sleep on as it was for sitting. Sandy’s face was obscured by her unruly post-shower hair and he brushed it away lightly to reveal a more timid smile than he’d ever expect of her when she was awake.

                                        They said their be-seeing-yous after breakfast, once Sandy had parked her car back at the Oasis and opened up the shop. Mr. Qi was waiting outside and waved to the two of them wordlessly when the car pulled up. Left to his devices, Archie found another couple of coconuts to being back to Pelican Town with him, and overanalyzed everything about the previous day for the whole bus ride home, and the bulk of his catch-up time on farm work. The situation was good, he thought, though he could imagine numerous ways for it all to go wrong, and as many strategies and contingencies to deal with that if and when the time came. It felt like the fresh new relationship it was.
                                         
                                          Last edited: Oct 13, 2016
                                        • Gabaw

                                          Gabaw Scruffy Nerf-Herder

                                          Long chap, no kidding! A good one tho. "Sebastian's looking for a Jade" :rip: lmao :rofl: I thought that Harvey wanting to be a pilot is really cool and it instantly boosts my opinion of him. also he's a pretty good doctor after all so there's that too. Maru's learning the trade fast too. as are we, I guess. Pregnancy indicators for cancer, eh? I never knew! Lots of interesting info there. it did have to happen tho, Archie swoopin in for the stealth smooch :p about time, I'd say. Mr. Qreeper getting bit too close tho. Back up, yo! hahaha. I'm sure you got something planned on that front. Time will tell.
                                           

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