Possibility: Part Six
I get to see Jules this morning. We've arranged a breakfast on the bank of a river. I asked that this be done, and surprisingly my wish was granted. I was even rewarded a bathroom. Today is looking good so far.
I ascend stairs, my legs tiring out. I spot Terrana dressed in warrior's gear on the first floor. She approaches and gives me another hug, which is unexpected, but I take it anyway. I contemplate telling her that I'm not really her sister, but it doesn't seem to matter. I leave with pride. Again, today is looking superb so far.
I carry a basket that includes my breakfast and backup breakfast if Jules has none. I make my way to the river, where Jules is probably already waiting. Even this early in the morning, music engulfs the air, and I still wave to the players.
I stop Jules by the river before I even make it there. He stands. When I get there, he hugs me.
I hug him back. "Thank you, Jules. For everything. Everything you've ever done for me."
"Don't even mention that," Jules orders. He pulls away from me and sits. "This is the only normal thing we've gotten to do in quite a while. We should just take advantage of it."
I sit and open my basket. "The last time we ate together was that morning in Sakhmet. Seems like forever ago, doesn't it?" I pull out the wrapped sandwiches and drinks. For a Shenkuuian morning, this is a very basic breakfast. Jules pulls out something more cultural, and I know he must have gotten it from Galtof.
"It does. How does it feel to be back home?"
I ponder this for a brief moment. "It feels... bittersweet." I unwrap a sandwich. "I'm back finally, but I'm learning everything negative about myself."
"What did your father tell you?" Jules inquires. Then he shakes his head. "Never mind, I don't even want to bring that up."
"No," I insist. "I'll tell you." And I tell Jules everything, because he deserves to know just as much as I do. I try not to leave anything out. I tell him that Siri was the one who instigated the whole lie about me being a criminal, and that the Draiks were likely reeled in by yearning for money, which should wrap up their story pretty well. When I finish, Jules just sits there and eats his food. I ask him what Galtof and he did.
Jules laughs. "He's not as bad as you make him out to be. He's funny, too. I would stay with him if I wouldn't be considered some sudden burden." He mutters something. "But anyway, he's pretty cool. We spent most of the night playing games."
"I guess I underestimated him." I underestimated everything.
We continue with our breakfast. I finish eating before Jules does because I have less food. I grab a stick and draw in the soft mud that abuts the river. I was never an artist. My drawing is a crude photo of two stick people eating under a bright, voluminous sun near a river.
"Is that who I think it is?" Jules rudely asks with a full mouth.
At first I think he's referring to my doodle, but I see he's nodding toward a group of people. I spot who Jules is asking about immediately: a shadow Draik with loads of jewelry. "It's... him." I can presume two things. If the others are in trouble, the shadow Draik evaded the grasp of ramification. If not, then he's begging to be caught. I suspect the first.
That thought about him always being on my side crosses again. But then I remember it was he who pulled me away from my father. No one on my side would do that to me. No one.
I scratch out the drawing I've done in distress.
"Should we run?" Jules asks.
I shake my head. "I'm tired of running. Actually, I'm just tired."
"This I can agree to."
"Jules," I say lowly.
Jules faces me. "What?"
I take a deep breath. "My father and I talked about one final thing last night. Well, it was a bulky subject with a lot of bullet points. The first was whether or not I should let my story be told throughout the world."
"And you said...?"
"I said no. If no one's known so far, no one needs to know later on. The second one we talked about was letting me live... more like my sisters. Basically not underground and deprived from the rich life."
"What did you say?"
I lowered my head. The flower that I had forgotten completely about after I'd put it behind my ear falls to the ground. I gingerly drop it into the river. "I said I could pass on living that ostentatiously."
Jules smiles. "Sounds like a smart decision."
"The last matter we discussed," I said slowly, "was where I was to live for the rest of my life."
There's an impromptu dinner this evening. This is the first time I get to sit somewhat near my father. In fact, I sit right beside Terrana. I've persuaded my father to allow Jules to attend and sit near me as well. He's dressed up nicely, as I'm sure he would have. I look... decent. I've never looked more than outstanding. Or outstanding in the first place.
This dinner is designed so that everyone can see and hear the circular stage in the center of the hall from their circular table. The tables are peppered out from the center of the hall. Our table is larger than most; nearly fifty sit here. We're not trying to attract a crowd. We sit right by the stage, so we will be able to hear and see quite well.
I lean over to Terrana when someone gets on the stage and ask her what they're going to do.
"I don't know," she whispers. "I think they'll recite poetry. Let's just say the food may be more interesting than the entertainment."
She's right, somewhat, because when my plate of Hot and Sour Soup comes, I'm a little bit mesmerized by the tonic medley of scents. I've never eaten this lavishly, so I take advantage of it. Jules orders something a little more humble: Shrimp on Ice. Terrana's tiny bento must have something to do with her warrior apprentice status. I seem greedy in comparison, but I don't really care.
Terrana's statement is further supported by the first "act" that takes the stage. Two small Grundos dressed much too formally sing. They do a mediocre job; I know I'm not a musical connoisseur, but I can identify decent music when I hear it.
The talent onstage decreases as the tastiness of my soup increases. Halfway in we get drinks, which seem a little overdue but probably not to the regulars here. I merely order water, but it's a sparkling water with satisfying tendencies.
After perhaps ten performances, a Cybunny takes the stage and asks for volunteers. Suddenly, and dreadfully, Jules is jabbing me with his elbow. "Astrea, we have to!"
"No, we do not!" I say.
"But if you don't, then I will, and I'll make sure to embarrass you. Vividly."
I groan. "What would we even do up there, Jules?"
"I don't know! What we have to do is probably better than all the other acts."
Terrana pipes in. "You two should do it. I'm sure Father would love to see it."
Ugh. I don't know if Terrana's meant to do this, but she does it well. I let Jules drag me up the stairs to the stage, and I'm standing in front of everyone. The closer to the stage, the prettier you are. Far back in the dim recesses are the commoners, the places where I used to sit. I sigh. I could just let everyone know everything about me now. But I don't say anything.
Jules sure does. He introduces himself in a very non-Shenkuu way. He makes a point in introducing me as "the beautiful Astrea". I wave. I have no idea what Jules has planned....
"Astrea and I have been friends for a few weeks now. But before then, we had no idea the other existed. Astrea took a bold step in her life and flew all the way to my homeland: the Lost Desert."
I don't let my shock show, but I am surprised to hear Jules tell a story.
He continues to explain how exactly we managed to put up with each other for two whole weeks. I crack a joke that makes maybe a few people laugh.
I wiggle my toes while Jules eases in to the part of the story where our real adventure began. He has no trouble with fabricating the truth, but spicing it up with the right about of real recollection of events. I even jump in with some comments to make it sound realistic. He hits points like sailing on the Cyodrake's Gaze, and staying a hotel, and staying with Galtof.
His finale of the story leaves the audience entertained.
We've told everyone our story, but no one knows what really happened. Leave it to Jules to do something as cunning as that. We were one of the only performances to yield a genuine round of applause. When I sit, Terrana grins. She says that we did a really great job.
"But that wasn't the truth," she says. She's not accusing us; she's actually acclaiming us for covering it up so well.
Jules nods. "A lot of the true story was either omitted or exaggerated. But we've livened up the audience well enough, haven't we?"
"It's remarkable. If ever we see each other again, you should offer me tips on perfecting an improvised speech. I have trouble with that occasionally."
"Will do," Jules answers. If there was any tension between them, it's gone.
The applause weakens, and after a while the crowd decides that we'll be the only volunteers for tonight. Jules has either intimidated everyone or pleased everyone enough. The people decide to clear out.
Jules and I stand, but Terrana grabs my paw. "Stay," she whispers. "I think we need to talk."
So we sit. It takes a while for everyone near us to depart, and some stay behind, but after maybe two minutes of sitting and trying not to get hit by wandering elbows, Terrana leans in. "So, that part at the end about Astrea learning the truth. What is the truth?"
Jules had said that I had finally learned the truth about something that had been ridding me from the inside for years. I took a deep breath. "I found out that I'm not truly the princess. That we're not really sisters."
Terrana is silent for a moment, and then she smiles. "Figures; I always knew something was up."
I smile. It's not even a funny subject, but this makes me feel better.
"In fact, I respect you a little bit more now. Between you and me, I would never leave this place as defiantly as you and Lunara. But I would definitely do it if it meant I would gain so much reward." She stands and hands out her paw for me to grab it.
"Thanks," I say as I pull myself up and pull Jules up. "Terrana, you haven't always known this, have you?"
"No," she answers. "I never could have guessed. Are you asking because I seem underwhelmed?"
I smile. "That was part of it."
"I'm sorry; I suppose it's habit from warrior training. My emotions are not supposed to be so readable."
"This isn't combat," I say. "This is just... life."
There's a cake in the center of the table that's thankfully not covered in sand. Two of my friends are sticking candles in the cake. And that's all they tell me. Otherwise I see nothing, covered by a blindfold that's really just an old shirt.
"When can I untie this?" I ask exasperatedly.
I grumble a bit, but there's no reason to it.
The two fuss a little.
There's some more mumbling.
One is behind me untying my blindfold. The other is holding up the cake with glowing candles. And on three, Volts and Jules break into a chorus of Happy Birthday.