Chapter Two: Friends and Enemies (Part I)
Clarice nodded as she took the box from Feles. Standing, she smiled and thanked her for the tea and said her goodbyes before she was soon out the door again. She remembered passing the bakery on the way there... it was four down, wasn't it?
Making sure that the box was safe in her arms, she walked down to the bakery, her mismatched eyes looking around her, trying to remember as much as she could about the streets. It wasn't long before she had arrived at the bakery, and once at the door, she called inside.
There was an abrupt scuffling inside before someone answered the door. It cracked a small bit and Alyx peered outside. His eyes! This close, Clarice could see that they were a deep, sea blue just around the pupils, but they blended into a vibrant amber in the middle, then dark brown at the edges of the iris. The baker didn't seem very happy to see anyone.
"I'm sorry, but the shop is closed today," he said (almost sadly) before he recognized who it was. "Oh, hello. I'm sorry, what was your name again?"
Clarice had just gotten a look at his eyes – she couldn't help but find them curiously beautiful – when he spoke. She was a little sad at first when he had said it was closed, but then he had corrected himself, and she smiled.
"Clarice," she reminded, her voice light and slightly bubbly. "And I brought with me a gift for you. Would it be alright for me to come in?"
As she asked this, she lifted the box in her arms a little so he could be sure that she wasn't bluffing. Still, it took him a moment to believe what he was seeing.
"Uh, yeah... one moment."
He closed the door, and it was a few minutes before he opened it again and let her in.
"I... was just cleaning up from this morning. Made a bit of a mess making that cake..."
"Ohh..." Clarice answered as she scanned her eyes around the room after he had let her inside. It still somewhat smelled like a cake out of the oven, and it made her smile. Turning back to look at him again, she held the box out towards him.
"It's from Miss Mimosa," she explained, "Happy Birthday, Alyx."
After a hesitation, she added, almost apologetically, "I would've gotten something for you, as well, but I don't really know you that well, and not only would I not know what to get you, it would be rather odd to get a gift from someone you don't know on your birthday, wouldn't it?"
She laughed a little as she said this, trying to sound friendly, remembering how Feles had said he was shy. Alyx seemed more surprised than anything else as he took the package.
"That's alright. I wouldn't have expected anything either way."
He walked slowly towards the table, almost as if in a daze, and set the box on top as he sat down in a chair. He chewed on his lip briefly before opening the gift and taking out the tunic. A thin, glimmer of a smile crossed his face while he admired it.
"I'll need to thank Feles the next time I see her," Alyx said softly before he looked up at Clarice. "Thanks for... uh, delivering it, I guess."
He shifted in his seat and rubbed one of his shoulders, as if he were uncomfortable. Clarice's smile widened as he seemed to be happy with the gift.
"It was no problem, of course. I had gone to see her, like you suggested..."
She stopped and laughed, looking embarrassed.
"Actually, it was more as if she found me, but anyway, we were talking and then before I knew it, she was asking me if I'd like to deliver it."
No longer embarrassed, she concluded, "And you seemed to be a real nice fellow when I ran into you earlier, and I was happy to do it."
Alyx's smile widened, and he seemed to be relaxing a bit more.
"I guess she also told you why I'm not in the best of moods today. I was actually getting ready to go for a walk when you knocked. You... startled me."
He rubbed his shoulder again.
"Maybe I'll try this tunic on first."
"Oh, I'm sorry about that..." she apologized after hearing that she had startled him. She trailed off, catching the rubbing of his shoulder – no, the repeated rubbing of his shoulder. The gears in her head started to turn, but her thinking was interrupted by him saying that he was going to try on the tunic.
She stopped, not sure about what to say.
"Do you want me to leave or...um... I mean, if you have other plans...I don't want to make you have to not go on your walk, if it was this planned thing..."
Clarice stopped again, laughing a little, embarrassed.
Alyx laughed a little as he stood up, the tunic folded over one arm.
"No, no. Don't apologize. It wasn't really planned or anything. I just find the city too stuffy during this time of the year. I was going to go visit the cliffs that overlook the valley, actually. The view is very beautiful..."
He trailed off momentarily, thinking about something. He looked back up at Clarice.
"Excuse me for a moment. I'll be right back."
The baker walked off into another room and closed the door behind him to get changed. He took longer than what would have been expected to slip a tunic on, but when he finally did come out he was wearing it. Needless to say, it looked much better on Alyx than it did in the box. Clarice had been looking around again, and when he came out, she spun around to face him, smiling immediately.
"Oh, it looks wonderful on you, Alyx! She really did do a great job in making it."
"Yeah..." he answered, almost absentmindedly. He was looking at Clarice as if he had expected her to say something else, but after a moment he smiled.
"Thanks," he eventually said. "It's the first gift I've gotten today. I think I'm still going to visit the cliffs, though. Would you... uh, like to join me?"
Clarice looked absolutely enthusiastic.
"Really? You'd like me to come with you? I'd love to! It sounds like it would be a lot of fun!" she said, then paused, blushing, embarrassed. She had sounded completely childish at that last part.
"I mean... I think it would be wonderful. Ehehee..."
"You remind me of my friend Chay, getting so excited like that. Don't worry about it."
He opened the door to let them both out, holding it for Clarice. Out on the streets, people were running all about, preparing for the big celebration. Alyx seemed very anxious. Everyone was so excited about the celebrations, and they were all certainly busy. Looking over at Alyx, she noted he seemed... somewhat nervous.
"You seem a little... oh, what is that word I'm looking for... anxious? Anxious! Yes, that's it. Is something wrong?"
Alyx shook his head.
"Let's just go before someone decides to commission another enormous cake."
As they were walking, she decided to try and make conversation, but not really being able to think of what to start off with, she asked, "How is your shoulder? I noticed that it looked like it was hurting you earlier."
"Hm? Oh, that. No, it was just sore from carrying that cake earlier."
Something in Alyx's tone said there was more to it than that, but there was little time to question his response as the sound of galloping hooves drew quickly near. Riding on the back of a cream colored horse came one of the suitors, barreling through the streets like he was charging some wild beast, paying no attention at all to who was in his path.
Clarice was about to respond when suddenly a suitor on a horse came charging through. Once the sound was heard, Clarice quickly went to get out of the way of the street (like practically everyone else there), hoping that Alyx had done the same. It was kind of a quick thing to happen. She was somewhat stunned, but at the same time she was thinking about how reckless that had been, and people could have gotten – or still get seriously injured.
"Out of my way!" the man demanded as he galloped past them both. Against his better judgment (or perhaps because he'd almost been trampled), Alyx called after him:
"What's the hurry?"
The man abruptly stopped, and the baker knew he probably shouldn't have said anything.
"Oh dear..." Clarice breathed as she looked from Alyx to the man on the horse. Just by the fact that he had been going to fast and then stopped because of what Alyx had said signaled to trouble. Alyx started to whistle uneasily as the man slowly backed his horse up to be beside them. The prince looked down at them both with narrow black eyes and a dignified sneered.
"Did you say something, peasant?"
The baker looked at him, but continued to whistle. While Alyx whistled, trying to act like he hadn't said anything, Clarice was shyly averting her gaze away from the prince, not facing away, just looking off to the side ever so slightly. The prince, however, was not amused.
"Answer me, boy! I asked you a question!"
"Well, I asked you one, and you haven't answered that yet, so I figured I'd wait on your response first."
Alyx knew he was only getting himself into more trouble with this man, but he couldn't stand people who thought only about themselves. Furthermore, knowing that this man was one of the princess's suitors made him worry what the other suitors might be like. Clarice looked over worriedly at Alyx. She hoped he knew what he was getting himself into. Who knew what this man would do... I mean... he was a prince... and not a very kind one, it seemed.
"You have a lot gall, peasant, speaking to me like that. I'll let it go this time, only because I have more important things to do today than bother dealing with commoners. Don't expect to get off so easily when I'm monarch here."
Saying no more, the prince trotted off, quickly regaining his old speed as he dashed towards the palace. Once he was gone, Alyx sighed.
"I hope the princess doesn't choose him. The queendom won't last very long if she does."
"I agree, he was frightening and rude..."
After a moment of silence, Clarice tried to regain the previous mood and smiled.
"So, shall we continue on?"
"Yeah, let's get out of here before another suitor tries to trample us."
Alyx took the lead as they made their way out of town towards the cliffs. Alyx knew his plans would have to change some, but at least he could enjoy the view. Clarice followed behind Alyx, looking around as they walked towards the cliffs. She was really happy that Alyx had asked her if she'd like to go with him; it was definitely better than sitting with her brother all day while the festivities continued.
Soon, they had gotten to the cliffs. It was nice and quiet there, much more peaceful than the city. And Alyx was right, too, the view was beautiful. After looking around for a minute, taking in the view, she said, "It really is nice up here."
Alyx stood near the edge and took a deep breath.
"I love it up here," he agreed. "It makes me feel like I'm flying."
That was what he had planned on doing when he had originally decided to visit the cliffs, but he wasn't sure he could do that, not with Clarice there...
"Yeah..." Clarice agreed, going a little closer to the edge too, to be able to look down the cliff better. "I know what you mean."
When was the last time she had really been able to even stretch her wings out properly? She couldn't remember.
"Wouldn't it just be great to let loose like that?"
Pausing, she added, "To, you know, fly?"
She didn't want to make it sound like she really COULD fly... I mean, she didn't really know if she could trust Alyx yet, no matter how nice he was.
Alyx, though he didn't know it, was thinking the same thing, and all this talk about flying was really making him want to just jump off the edge and take flight. The tunic Feles had made for him was doing its job well, concealing his wings without obstructing them. It had taken him a moment to realize exactly what the tunic did, which was why it had taken him so long to try it on. He also knew that when he did fly, he was going to let them show.
Alyx was thinking about what Clarice had said, and a crazy idea popped into his head. Perhaps this confidence came from the tunic, or maybe just the fact that Feles had asked Clarice to deliver it to him.
"Um... Clarice?" he asked shyly. "If... if I were to show you something, would you promise not to tell anyone what you saw?"
Clarice looked over at Alyx. What was it that he wanted to show her?
"Yes, I promise not to tell anyone what I see..." she started, somewhat curious. "What is it you're thinking about showing me?"
He smiled bashfully and walked slowly towards another part of the cliffs, turning so that his heels were slightly over the edge. Alyx spread his arms out, much like he would his wings once he was ready, and looked hopefully at Clarice.
He closed his eyes and leaning back, fell over the edge of the cliff. As Alyx fell over the edge of the cliff, she felt her heart skip a beat, and she gasped, her eyes going wide.
What was he doing?! Trying to kill himself? Quickly, she ran to the edge and looked over, mostly just looking like she hadn't expected him to do that.
Almost as soon as she looked over the edge did Alyx come soaring back up, his speckled brown wings spread wide. He made a few circles high above the valley before he landed gently back on the cliffs, folding his wings behind him. He looked to Clarice for her response, hoping that he hadn't done something foolish.
Clarice still looked surprised... but that was all. After only a few seconds of him standing there, she looked happy – excited, almost.
"Oh my goodness! You're an aligeri!" she exclaimed, a spread of relief coming over her, knowing that Alyx was a person she really could trust. After all, he had just put his in her. Pausing, realizing that her response would probably sound completely odd to him, she explained, "Alyx, I'm an aligeri too! Oh, I'm so happy!"
She felt an odd urge to hug him and squeal and giggle like a ten year old with the odd elation of joy that she was feeling. That was definitely not the response he had expected, and Alyx was taken slightly aback.
"Really?" he asked, voice shaking. He smiled ever so slightly.
"Can... can I see your wings?"
The request came out so quickly he had to catch himself.
"I'm sorry. Never mind. I didn't mean to ask that. I mean... I wouldn't want you to have to undress to show me..."
Clarice's face went red.
"I... wouldn't mind you seeing them..." she started, but she WOULD have to undress to let him see them, and that whole idea was completely embarrassing to her. "But... I don't think I can..." she agreed, laughing a little. But then, she sighed.
"Actually, I'd love to be able to show you my wings; I haven't gotten a chance to stretch them out for a while now..."
She wished that she had had different clothes to wear that would allow her to spread them out without having to undress, but unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Alyx was blushing too, embarrassed he'd asked such a thing, but then his face lit up.
"I know! We can ask Feles if she has something you can wear to let them free, like this tunic."
He paused, and his wings slowly faded.
"It's really strange: I can feel them on my back, but my hand passes through as if they weren't there. It is certainly much more comfortable than binding them constantly. I'm sure Feles will have something similar you could use."
"Really? You think that she might?"
Clarice was excited by this idea, but she felt a little nervous about asking Feles –
I mean, she felt like she still didn't know her enough to ask her for anything.
"I'm sure she will," Alyx said as he started back towards the city. "My guess is she already knows you're going to be requesting one. She has a tendency to think of things before you even know you're going to think of them."
Clarice laughed as she remembered her encounter with Feles earlier.
"I don't find that hard to believe," she commented as she followed him back towards the city. She was starting to have a very pleasant day today. Back in the city, they quickly made their way to the wise woman's shop. Alyx knocked politely on the door.
"I'd know that knock anywhere," answered Feles on the other side. "Come on in, Alyx."
When the two were inside, Clarice smiled at Feles and waved.
"Hello again," she said politely, close behind Alyx. Suddenly, she remembered what Feles had said earlier to her, about her and Alyx having things in common. She had been right, and she didn't find that surprising at all.
"Welcome back," Feles greeted with a smile and a nod. "What can I do for you today?"
"Well, first I'd like to thank you for the tunic," Alyx said. "And then I'd like to ask if something similar could be made for Clarice."
He looked back at her, and Feles chuckled.
"I'm impressed: I thought it would have taken you longer to figure out how similar you two are. So, who was the first to speak up?"
Alyx's blush was all the answer she needed.
"Interesting... I'm glad to see you're becoming more trusting Alyx."
More trusting. Clarice looked over at Alyx, remembering what Feles had said earlier about how difficult it was for him to make friends. She smiled as she realized that it really would be somewhat surprising to hear how quickly he had put his trust in her and shown her what he was.
"Well, Clarice," Feles said, turning towards her. "So you want something that bears the same properties as Alyx's tunic, yes?"
"Yes, please," Clarice answered, then paused, and not wanting to sound rude, added, "If that's alright, of course..."
"I wouldn't ask if it wasn't alright. Now, both of you should be warned: although the enchantment that allows your wings freedom of movement is permanent, the concealment one is not. You'll have to return the clothes by midnight if you want me to re-enchant them for that purpose."
Feles was moving around her shop, collecting various items for the work she would be doing.
"Do you have a bodice you like to wear, Clarice, that I could enchant? I'm afraid I don't have any I could give you."
"Oh, well the one I'm wearing is pretty comfortable..." she answered, looking down at herself as she said this.
"Then if you don't mind being without it for a few hours, I can begin working on the enchantment now."
Feles held out her hand, as if expecting Clarice to want the enchantment done as soon as possible. Clarice nodded, and although it was awkward, she took off her bodice and gave it to Feles. It didn't take terribly long, and when it was off she felt even more awkward. It wouldn't have been as bad if Alyx hadn't been there, and although it wasn't as if she was completely undressing, she felt a little more conscious of herself.
"Why don't you go back to your shop and get another one to wear in the meantime?" the wise woman suggested. "I'll come look for you when this is ready."
Alyx had hoped it wasn't going to take so long; he'd never met another aligeri and he was very curious to see Clarice's wings, but he had to wait.
"I'll go with you," he said to the tailor. "If you don't mind."
"That's a good idea, thank you very much, Feles!" she said happily, glad that she was going to have an opportunity to have her wings out soon enough. She was getting excited just thinking about it. When Alyx spoke, she smiled.
"Of course I don't mind, you're perfectly welcome to come with me!"
Alyx smiled in return and opened the door for her.
"Lead on, then. I will follow."
So Clarice led the way to where she now lived with her brother. It didn't take terribly long because it luckily wasn't too long of a walk, and when they got there and she opened the door, she peered inside. Her brother wasn't in the room, so he was probably still resting in bed.
The room here was still a little of a mess from earlier, thanks to Clarice, although being a good tailor, still not used to all the equipment and positions of everything, so she had tripped over her long legs several times, and hadn't had the time to clean it up earlier. She made a mental note to get to that soon.
"Make yourself at home, I'll only be a minute," she said, going into the room that her brother had cleared out for her when she had arrived, and quickly finding another bodice to put on. A few minutes later, she came back out. Alyx had remained standing where he was and was whistling softly as he waited. When Clarice came back, he smiled again.
"I'm glad Feles is able to help you out too. I wish it wouldn't take her so long."
"I'm just happy to be able to get something for this, I'm fine with waiting a few hours," Clarice said happily, but then wondered. "What to do while we wait, though?"
Alyx started to shrug, but a thought came to mind.
"Why don't we try to find Chay and Ellen? I haven't seen them since I delivered the cake, and frankly, it worries me when Chay is roaming around the town unsupervised..."
Clarice smiled as they started to leave the shop.
Trailing off, she remembered when she had seen them.
"They were quite a pair. Chay seemed to be really friendly, but Ellen seemed very shy..."
"She's a little squirrelly," Alyx said with a slight chuckle. "And a little uneasy around things that are bigger than her."
Making a quick glance around the streets, the baker laughed.
"It'll be interesting to try and spot them, seeing as they're both barely four feet tall..."
Clarice laughed as well.
"Interesting is a good word for it," she remarked as she also looked around the streets. After it had gone a little silent again, she said, "You know something, Alyx? It's really nice talking to you."
He smiled sheepishly.
"Thanks. You too. I mean, it's nice having... well, someone else like me to talk to."
Alyx continued to scan the crowds for his friends, but was having little luck.
"This is one of those rare times I wish Chay would use his magic..."
"Those two are sprites, yes?" Clarice asked, making sure if she was right about what she had already suspected. She looked around as well, trying to spy the two in the bustling crowd. If it was any other day, it probably wouldn't have been nearly as hard.
"Yeah, and Chay has a bad habit of using his magic for pranks. As long as he (or any sprite, for that matter) keeps his spells in check while he's in the city, he's welcome to stay. I'm not sure if you're aware, but Celest has very strict magic laws. As far as I know, Feles is the only one who has been given permission to freely practice it. Still, most people are really paranoid about it. Sort of like how they all feel about the aligeri..."
Alyx remembered one time when he'd asked the wise woman about why the laws against magic were so strange. All she had said was that people let their fears get the better of them, but couldn't explain more than that.
"Yeah," Clarice said with a nod. "My brother informed me of the laws in the city – I had to sound like I was just curious about them, considering he doesn't... know."
After she explained this, she sighed, but said no more about it.
"I wonder where your friends could have run off to," she thought aloud to change the subject.
"I wish he'd given me some hint before he dashed off..."
Meanwhile, the sprites weren't as far away as the two aligeri thought. All of the festivities had brought vendors outside, and Chay (for one) was trying to get a better look at the wares.
"Oh... hey Ellen! Look at these!"
He had to stand on the tip of his toes to see above the edge of the counter, but what he could see fascinated him. He didn't know exactly what it was from this angle, only that it was shiny. Next to Chay, Ellen tried to get a good look at what he was seeing that interested him so much.
"They're pretty..." she started, but trailed off. "What are they, Chay?"
"I can't tell," he admitted with a shrug. "The table's too high."
Looking around, Chay eventually spotted the vendor. He waved his arm, trying to get his attention.
"Excuse me! Excuse me! What do you have on your table?"
It took the vendor a moment to look down and spot the sprite.
"Hm? Oh, what can I get for ya', kid?"
Chay's ears went back slightly. He hated it when the humans mistook him for a child.
"What's on your table?" he asked again, trying not to sound irritated. "We can't see."
"Oh, well let me get you a stool. I've got several different items up here."
The vendor left momentarily to get the sprites something to stand on. Chay turned to Ellen while they waited.
"You'd think the ears would be a giveaway, wouldn't you?"
"But at least when they don't know, they don't get as nervous or irritated..." she said, remembering how agitated and annoyed people could get at sprites, even when they had done nothing wrong at all. Chay shrugged.
"Still, I'm fifty-seven years old. I don't appreciate being called 'kid' by someone who's more than likely younger than me."
For a sprite, that was early adulthood, so being treated like a child was something that particularly irritated Chay. The vendor soon came back with a bench wide enough for both of them to stand on.
"There you go," he said. "See anything you like?"
Silver. That's what had caught the sprite's attention. The table was covered in all manner of silverware and silver items, from trays to candlesticks. Ellen almost apologized to Chay, but that's when the vendor came back out and gave them the stool. She stepped on it with Chay and looked around at the items. Shiny things were definitely very exciting in their own way – but they had come for Alyx.
"Is there anything here Alyx would like?" she asked Chay.
Chay scanned the items, then pointed at one of the candlesticks.
"How much is that?"
The vendor looked at the sprite with a skeptical stare and chuckled.
"Oh, that's probably a little too expensive for your allowance, kid."
Chay's eyes narrowed.
"Look, I'm not a kid, ok? I'm a sprite, and I'm trying to buy a gift for a friend. How much is it?"
This only seemed to amuse the vendor more.
"Alright, whatever you say... It's two and a half gold for that one. The detailing took some work."
Two and a half gold! Chay might not have been human, but he knew that the average laborer in Celest wouldn't earn that much in a month. An artisan (such as the vendor who claimed to have made the piece) could get that much in a few days, assuming he didn't eat at all that week. Chay looked at him intently.
"I'll give you one and quarter for it."
"Ain't worth that little," the vendor told him. The sprite folded his arms.
"Ain't worth that much. The detailing isn't that impressive."
This seemed to put a damper on the man's humor, and he frowned slightly.
"Two and a quarter," he offered.
"One and a half," Chay insisted.
"One and three-quarters, and I leave you alone for the day."
The vendor thought about it, and eventually nodded.
"Fine, one and three-quarters. Hard to believe you have that much, kid."
"I told you," Chay said through gritted teeth. "I'm not a kid!"
Chay got his money out while the vendor took the candlestick and wrapped it in a package to be carried. As soon as the exchange was complete, Chay hopped down from the bench and looked over at Ellen.
"Well, I guess we go find Alyx now."
That had made Ellen somewhat nervous. Chay was getting kind of mad at the vendor, who was overpricing his items. Finally, they seemed to have reached an agreement, and Ellen hopped off of the bench as well as Chay proposed to go find Alyx. She nodded.
"Okay, let's go find him."
"Find who?" a voice asked. "That exceptionally tall friend of yours, bunny?"
Leaning against another stall was perhaps the last person Chay wanted to run into. Another sprite, just a little taller than he was, and a lot less civil, he made a sport of teasing Chay every now and then for no apparent reason other than the animals they could turn into. He smiled at the other two, revealing a row of sharp teeth.
"Fancy seeing you without your owner, Chay. He leave your cage open again?"
With a little bit of a squeak of surprise and fright, Ellen quickly half hid behind Chay. She remembered him; he was Kit! He intimidated her a little... mostly because of his teeth and his attitude towards Chay.
"Aren't you a bit out of your element, Kit?" Chay asked, trying not to show his unease. Kit was one of the carnivorous sprites, and even though he knew he wouldn't actually try to eat him (even in his hare form), the idea still made his skin crawl. And Kit knew it did.
"On a day like today?" he replied, walking towards them. "With all these humans running around celebrating? I wouldn't miss this party for the world... Is that Ellen I see hiding behind you?"
For about a split second, Ellen looked more afraid than ever when he had actually noticed her. Sheepishly, she moved tiny bit more out into the open and smiled a little, giving the sprite a small wave.
Kit waved back and smiled, seeming to make a conscious effort to keep his lips shut when he did. Chay didn't like him being so close, and moved forward to push him back.
"Look, we have more important things to do today than be harassed by you!"
"Harassed?" Kit asked. "Was I harassing you? Ellen, was I harassing him?"
He didn't wait for an answer from either of them as he shrugged, then suddenly wrapped his arms around Chay in an embrace. Kit buried his face in the other sprite's hair, inhaling deeply.
"Mmm... by the celestials, you smell absolutely delicious, Chay! Makes me hungry..."
Chay frantically squeezed his way out of the hold.
"Get off of me!" he squeaked as he backed away. "You're sick, you know that?"
Kit just shrugged again and turned to leave.
"I'll catch you morsels later; I'm going to get myself a snack. Don't hurt yourselves at the party while I'm gone!"
The sprite walked off without another word to either of them. When Kit was out of earshot, Ellen frantically asked, "Was he really going to eat you? He wasn't, r-right?"
She seemed upset. I mean, she had been somewhat frightened with his presence, but since he was another sprite, and he tried to be friendly (at least to her) she had tried to be friendly as well. But after the comment about him smelling delicious, mixed with the fact that he was a carnivore, Ellen had gone into a momentary panic. She just wasn't clever enough to tell that Kit had been joking.
"No, he wasn't," Chay assured her, though he himself was still shaking from the idea. "He just likes to tease. Let's go find Alyx before he decides to bug us again."
Slowly, realization settled into her expression and her breathing came out at a more normal rate. Ellen nodded.
"Okay..." she agreed, not wanting to be scared more.
Chay nodded to her and started back towards the bakery, where he expected Alyx to be. Even though the baker wasn't there, their paths would cross right about when the aligeri was ready to go back home and wait it out anyway.
"There they are," Alyx said to Clarice, pointing out the two sprites. "Thank God for Chay's bright orange hair..."
Clarice smiled when she caught sight of them as well.
"Oh, I see them!"
Her expression changed to one of very slight confusion.
"They look a little bit uneasy about something, though..."
When the two pairs were close enough, Ellen waved shyly again, still not used to Clarice, considering she had only met her once.
"What were you two up to?" Alyx asked them. "I didn't expect to completely lose you."
"We went shopping," Chay told him as cheerfully as possible. "We were getting you a birthday gift."
He held up the box for his friend to take. The baker smiled at them and chuckled.
"It's nice that you wanted to surprise me, but you had me worried there for a while."
Alyx took the package and opened it, taking out the brand new candlestick the sprite had just bought. Chay looked on, eagerly awaiting his reaction. Again, the baker smiled.
"Thanks, both of you. This is very nice."
He was somewhat shocked that they'd bought him something so expensive, but knowing how sprites were so attracted to shiny things...
Alyx looked happy, and Ellen smiled, looking at Chay happily.
"He liked it! He liked it!"
For now, she was convinced that Chay was a master at gift picking. It might have helped that Alyx seemed to be in a better mood than when they had seen him before. He didn't seem as intimidating at all anymore.
"Yes, yes. I like it," Alyx laughed. "I'll go put it somewhere safe for now. Oh, we should go check back in on Feles and see if she's done with that bodice for you, Clarice. It's been a while now."
Clarice smiled and nodded.
"Alright, that's a good idea."
She was a little excited, once he mentioned it again.
"I'll be right back," Alyx said, jogging into his bakery to put the candlestick away. While he was gone, Chay looked up at Clarice.
"So," the sprite began with a cheeky grin. "What're you getting a bodice from Feles for? Aren't you the tailor?"
"Because," she explained simply. "She's enchanting it for me."
She would've explained it more... clearly, but it was kind of hard to blurt out that one was an aligeri in the middle of bustling and crowded streets.
"Oh?" he asked, grin widening. "Any particular enchantment?"
"The same as the one on my tunic," Alyx answered for her as he came out of the shop. "You're a clever sprite; I'm sure you can figure out what it does."
Chay thought about it for a moment, then his eyes widened in realization.
"Oh! Well that's interesting..."
Clarice smiled as he realized, but Ellen just looked lost. She looked at Clarice, and then Alyx, and then finally at Chay. How come she wasn't smart, like he was? She tried to think of something that Alyx would enchant his tunic with... but she couldn't. She continued to puzzle over it. Maybe it would come to her soon.
"So, shall we go, then?" Clarice asked.
Alyx nodded and they all headed back to the wise woman's shop. The baker was about to knock on the door again, but Feles interrupted him.
"The shop's open, Alyx. Just enter."
Feles was sitting in her armchair, wrapping a ribbon around a familiar sized box. She looked at them all with a smile, her eyes flashing green.
"I expect you're here for your blouse."
Clarice smiled and nodded politely.
"Yes, is it ready?" she asked. Ellen was looking around curiously. She had heard of Feles before, and had run into her, but she hadn't really talked to her or seen the inside of her shop before, since she was too shy.
"Up those stairs," Feles answered with a gestured. "I set it on the bed. You can change up there too, if you would like."
After she finished tying the package in her lap, the wise woman looked over at the sprites.
"Hello, Ellen," she said softly, as not to startle her. "How are you today?"
Clarice thanked her, and went up the stairs to change.
When Feles greeted Ellen, her face flushed slightly, shyly, and she nodded.
"H-hello... I'm alright, thank you for asking."
Pausing after a glace at the others still in the room, she looked back at the woman and asked back, "How are you today?"
Feles smiled at her.
"As good as any other day. Are you enjoying the festivities?"
"A... a little bit..." she responded. It was nice that everyone seemed to be having fun, but the fact that there were so many people outside now... it kind of ruined everything for her.
After a few more moments, Clarice came down, changed and looking cheerful. She was a lot more comfortable now that her wings were free, and she didn't have to worry about anyone discovering them for now.
"Does it suit you?" Feles asked without turning around. She instead stood up from her chair and moved to the counter, rummaging around beneath it.
"Yes! It's wonderful!" Clarice responded happily as she returned to the others.
"Let's go back to the cliffs," Alyx suggested. "I want to see your wings."
Clarice smiled brightly at Alyx's suggestion.
"I'd love to!" she said, her voice light and airy as she responded. Like Alyx, this was really only her first time really meeting another one of their kind (she had met one in the past, but had never really talked to him at all), and she was excited to show him her wings. Chay's ears perked up when he heard this.
"Oh! Are you going flying?" he asked. "Can we come too?"
"Of course! Clarice, you don't mind if the sprites tag along, do you?"
Clarice shook her head.
"Of course not! The more the merrier – in this case, at least."
Ellen, however, had quietly and stealthily gone over to where Feles was behind the counter. Curiously, she wanted to ask her a question before they left.
"U-um..." she started, a timid expression reflecting in her large eyes. "Miss Feles? What was that box that you were wrapping earlier?"
Her face going red, she added, "S-sorry if I'm prying... I'm just a little curious..."
Feles looked down and smiled at her.
"It's a gift for the princess," she answered. "I'm heading over to the palace now. The queen wants me to review the suitors before they meet her daughter, so I thought I would bring Ruby's present along with me. I just hadn't gotten around to wrapping it yet."
She turned back to her counter and pulled out a small charm bracelet. The wise woman knelt down so that she was eye level with Ellen.
"Here, take this. It'll help you relax and not worry so much. The world isn't as frightening as you think."