Chapter 1: New World, Same Fears
[For the sake of narrative convenience, in this story the bard is literally called ‘Bard’. Though a bit dry and unimaginative, it is simple and convenient name to write with, and still allows the reader to personally imagine him with any other name they want.]
The night before the adventure, Bard dreamt of a fate where he picked up the sword and tried to fight his way into heroism, fulfilling his fate through blood and pain.
The night after the adventure, he dreamt of a world of colors and sounds beyond his imagination. Filled with wonderful music, and shining with every color he could perceive. A chorus of joy and love spread to every corner of the world, with people just happy to be alive, and part of such a harmonious planet.
As he flew over land and sea and mountain, taking in the sights, Bard started singing the Earthsong. At once, the earth and water themselves started dancing to the tune. He had never felt such joy as he looked over this new world; it was perfect, incredible, wonderful. He felt connected to all. He could sense all the cheer and elation in every living being.
He admired the world he had helped saved from oblivion. The view was simply incredible from this broom. Miriam was taking them higher and higher through the clouds, entering the sky and seeing it cycle through every color of the rainbow. Higher still, Miriam made them soar until the night stars were twinkling right beside them.
The spectacle was beyond words, beyond lyrics; nothing could convey just how beautiful it was. The new world was just as amazing and hopeful as he would dare to believe. It was just… perfect.
“...it’s really something.” Was all Miriam said, her default scowl gone. Her expression was much softer. Almost… smiling.
“It’s the best! It’s just what it’s supposed to be!” He responded as they sailed through the starry sky. He wanted to shout with excitement and glee, but… what could he possibly say?
“Hey, Bard?” Miriam said, in an almost hesitant tone.
“What is it, Miriam?” He asked back. Miriam remained silent for a second, mulling over what words to say.
And then the early bird woke him up, ending the dream.
The bard stared blankly at the ceiling, his mind still reeling from the dream, as he gently rubbed his eyes and sat up in bed. He’d been so tired from all the greeting and travelling from last night that he’d forgotten to even change his clothes. Last night he’d just taken off his hat and then dropped like a stone onto the mattress.
The birdsong caught his ear again, and Bard turned over to look at a lovely bird sitting on his windowsill. He wasn’t sure what kind of bird it was… he’d never seen those colors on one before. Still, it sung a lovely song. He listened to it for a few seconds, and followed along and sung to its notes. It was perfect. The two were singing in harmony, the bird chirping notes and the bard following along happily.
The bird seemed to bounce happily in response, before gently flying away. Bard watched it disappear into the colorful sky with a smile on his face. Despite how amazing his dream had been… the world was surely just as beautiful, maybe even more.
Still… he couldn’t help but wonder what Miriam was about to say… but that wasn’t important now. What was important was that it was a brand new day! And he ready to go ahead and take it on!
As soon as he stood up, however, he felt his legs complaining, feeling sore. Right, he spent the last several weeks walking more than he probably had done in years. While Bard was on the adventure, it was easier to ignore the fact that he wasn’t used to exercise this intense. But now that he was home, and he’d succeeded in his mission… his body seemed to demand its due rest. Maybe today he’d just take it easy and stay in Langtree, and not go out any further out until his legs were ready.
Miriam and him had agreed to see each other soon, though she had said that she’d rather wait at least one day. Not just to rest like he was going to, but also to spend the day with grandma Saphy. Even if Saphy was still okay after keeping the monsters at bay, and got to spend time with her while he climbed Ichor Mountain, she said she wanted to have a quiet day at home with her after the restless adventure.
“I just… wanna be with her for a bit. She cares about me, and I care about her, too. And it’d be nice to catch up on things while the world isn’t ending and we don’t have to race around all the time.” He remembered her words as he finally stood up and started stretching, feeling his bones and muscles readjusting. He wanted to see her, he always did, but he’d be okay for now. He’d have more energy to hang out with her tomorrow anyway, after getting some rest.
Feet still a bit sore, Bard slowly walked across his house, and out the door. He breathed in the fresh morning air, feeling the coolness refreshing his body, and the subtle perfume of flowers giving the atmosphere a ever so faint sweetness to it. The bright sun warmed his body and shone on the grass and trees with a faint glow, and a soft breeze blew the loose leaves with a gentle rustling sound. The day was beautiful, and colorful, and just as wonderful as ever.
He breathed in the refreshing and cool morning air as the subtle perfume of flowers left the atmosphere with a lingering sweetness. Shining above, the sun warmed his body and painted the surrounding foliage. The glow highlighted the loose leaves which fluttered with a gentle rustling sound thanks to the soft breeze.
Despite the wonderful world around him, Bard could not be distracted from something very important: breakfast. His stomach grumbled at the thought, as he realized about how hungry he was. Time to get going!
And so he merrily went to town, singing along the way. He recalled songs he’d heard and learned in his journeys, some simple, some intricate, some from distant lands, and even a few that borrowed one or two ideas and passages from Overseer songs - either way, the locals could clearly hear him coming even before he could be seen.
A familiar voice, a reassuring one to the townsfolk. He might’ve been gone as the world slowly crumbled, but he came back at the very end to restore it again. And to be its home once again, to have yet another morning graced by his tones and melodies, it seemed to confirm to them again that everything was right once more. He was back, and everything was well again.
It was proving to be an unexpected socially busy day for him. Despite having greeted and talked to everyone in Langtree last evening when Miriam brought him back home, it seemed as though everyone still wanted to chat with him. Bard couldn’t say no, of course, he was happy to hear what they had to say. And they all had so much to talk about… recollecting how Langtree had decayed over weeks, as monsters steadily came and settled, and spirits flew by all the time, still making those spooky noises that ruined their sleep.
He was glad everyone was thanking him, and giving him small gifts (especially food - he hadn’t had such a generous lunch in a long time!) and even some saying how they always knew he’d turn out to be something special. And yet, it was all a bit… overwhelming. He began to feel a little enclosed, going from house to house to be someone’s guest all the time. As the day continued, he couldn’t help but wonder what every other place he’d gone to looked like now… he recalled his dream, and how exciting it was to see the whole world, an opportunity that was unthinkable to him just weeks ago...
But his mind returned back to the ground, and he kept on his usual goofy smile, and kindly replying to their words. People were sharing their happiness and gratefulness, and he’d dutifully return the gesture, by being a kind, polite, and friendly guest. At the very least, he spent most of it sitting and letting his leg muscles recover, as he got caught up with people and their lives.
It felt a bit strange… he’d known them for so long, but he’d never spent so much time away from them until this adventure. They were still the same people, but they had changed in small ways. Coming back home after a long leave, and everything was slightly different, even if it was all still warm and welcoming. Perhaps he’d gotten a bit too used to his traveling and meeting lots of people, seeing only a few days of their lives...
By the time Bard was done talking with everyone, the sun was setting. Feeling satisfied, both in stomach and words, he said his goodbyes to the mayor after hearing her new plans for the town, and started to head back home. He waved to everyone, leaning out of their windows or at their door, ready to settle for the evening. He smiled, wide and eager as he always did, and took the path back home.
Soon enough, the houses were out of sight, and it was just him and the sound of his footsteps. Already his legs were feeling better, well enough to make the trip to Delphi on his own. It wasn’t too far away, thankfully, it would just a little bit. Maybe he should get up and get going early tomorrow… he was excited to make the journey.
Just a few minutes later, he was at his front door again. He opened it up and found everything just the way he left. And yet… for some reason the usual quiet and stillness that always awaited him here… it felt pronounced tonight.
Many nights, Bard would come home and find it a little too quiet for his liking. And so he’d sing to himself a cheerful melody, to fill the air, to brighten up the lonely home. And last night, he’d been too tired to even think about any of this. As he slowly took off his clothes, not wanting to fall asleep in them again, and settled on the mattress and beneath the bedsheets, he couldn’t help but listen to the silence.
It was… a bit uncomfortable. He didn’t feel like singing right now; he was tired and wanted to take it easy and save his voice for tomorrow. He stared at the ceiling again, illuminated only by gorgeous blue moonlight, but still leaving him in just a dim bedroom. Why did it feel weirdly quiet?
He knew why. It’s because for the past weeks, he hadn’t been in this quiet loneliness at night every time. Miriam had been with him. She didn’t always like talking at night, especially not at first. She’d just quietly lie down and not really give much answer to his questions. But after a while, especially shortly before Ichor Mountain… she was more willing to talk about things. She seemed more open. And though she still didn’t quite appreciate him singing a lullaby, she at least talked with him. Said some things about herself that seemed really important. Not every night, but every so often… she seemed to speak her mind freely.
The quiet darkness, once so familiar and well-known… now felt a little empty. Devoid of… something. He wasn’t sure what. He didn’t want to dwell on it too much.
A little uneasy, he drifted back to sleep again. He hoped his dreams would put him at ease, with the color and music that was always so vivid in his mind, expressed through his voice, and reflected upon every night.
Miriam was back at Mohabumi. She was sitting in the library, reading through books on magic theory and spellcasting. It was all… so… boring. They were full of terms she didn’t understand, explanations that made no sense, and concepts that she’d never come across. She shut the book loudly and pushed away with a scowl, feeling frustrated.
She was supposed to learn magic, dammit. She was a witch, this is what witches did. So why did nothing in here seem to be even remotely familiar or close to what she did?
This was stupid. She needed to go outside. She got up and walked to the front door, attempting to push it open. But it remained firm, not giving even the slightest budge. It was locked.
“What?” Was all she said. She noticed an inscription upon the door, saying: “To open this door, cast the Opening Spell.” Opening Spell? The hell was that? She didn’t know an Opening Spell of any kind…
Whatever, a spell to open the door? Easy enough. She charged up a spell, and then extended her hand to release it.
The energy just bounced off the door, flying straight into her face, knocking her to the floor. Her cheeks and nose stung from the impact. But not nearly as much as the laughing that she could hear from a distance. Her face red from pain and embarrassment, she stood up and turned around… only to find no one there. But she could still hear them laughing.
“Come out so that I can blast your face!” Miriam shouted, charging yet another spell, her anger starting to flare up. She was already huffing and looking for her victim... then she felt all the energy leaving her body. The spell in her hands suddenly fizzled out.
“What… is going on?!” She didn’t realise she was shouting. She tried to summon the energy again, tap into that power within, but nothing happened. She couldn't find the magic. She couldn’t feel it anywhere, that familiar inner power. It was gone.
The mocking laughter was getting louder and louder, until the sound of it started to rumble and shake everything around her, and could feel it in her bones. The walls of the library suddenly cracked, as a deluge of books fell out from on high and rained upon her, threatening to bury her.
Miriam barely had time to know what was going on before she awoke from her nightmare.
She woke up with a brief jolt, her body tense and with heavy breathing, eyes wide with adrenaline staring at her ceiling. She lied down without moving her muscles for a few seconds, until the afterimage of the nightmare started to dissolve from her mind.
She groaned as she took her hand to her forehead almost as if trying to rub her emotions out of her brain. What the hell was going on with her? Everything was weird lately. She figured that after saving the world everything would go back to normal. Instead, it felt like there so many things that had changed and they weren’t going away… aaaaargggghhh, why did this have to be so difficult?
It was then that she heard the door creak open, and Saphy poked her head through the door. “Oh, you’re awake, dear. Good morning!” She said cheerfully as ever, always with that sweet grandmotherly tone and face that made it impossible to be mad at for long.
“Morning, grandma Saphy.” She grumbled without really looking at her.
“Breakfast is ready!” Saphy exclaimed before turning around and walking back to the kitchen. Miriam still didn’t get up from her bed, her body feeling heavier than usual. She didn’t feel like getting out of bed just yet…
Just to be sure, she raised her hand and tried to charge a spell. As always, the magic was there, its power coursing through her, following her will. So it really was just her stupid brain doing dumb things. Good.
With that out of the way, she finally remembered that today was the day that she and Bard were to meet again, right here in Delphi. She offered to give him a ride to town, but he said he didn’t mind the walking, and honestly, she was too tired that night to really insist on it, so… she guessed she’d just have to wait in town. He’d probably arrive just a few hours from now. Hopefully.
With that to look forward to, she finally pulled away the bedsheets, stood up, and headed over to the kitchen to have breakfast with her grandma. She didn’t know why, but she had a feeling that today would be an interesting one, somehow different.
Chapter 2: Familiar Sidequests
Damn it, she really should’ve been more specific. Now she was just awkwardly standing around the sweets shop, looking around and waiting for someone who she had no idea where he was. She hated waiting like this, even for Bard. It made her feel self-conscious, and like she was being judged by people who saw her.
Why wasn’t he here yet? Didn’t he want to come and meet with her? Why didn’t she just do something else about it instead? Or just get started without him?
Because… that’s what he said he wanted to do, and… Bard’s ways usually ended up working out in the end. Usually. She had to save his butt when they didn’t. Which was more than once. But she didn’t mind so much.
Miriam kept standing outside the shop, where she could still hear the same little melody that had been playing ever since he first showed up in Delphi. It was lovely, of course, but it was starting to get a little grating after playing for so long. As she looked through the glass pane, examining the frankly unappetising offerings, she caught a reflection of herself. It was staring back at her, with the usual scowl she wore whenever there were people around.
She stood immobile for a few seconds, eyeing herself back. She had that defensive posture, arms crossed, back straightened, and an unwelcoming expression. It was effective at least… it made people keep their distance, not talk to her. Just as well. She didn’t really have much she wanted to say to them. She said what was on her mind, and what she needed to say, no more. All business, no pleasantries.
Effective at not making friends.
She shook the thought of her head. She didn’t want to deal with this. Those thoughts didn’t help get things done. This is why she hated waiting like this. Because she started thinking… and some of those thoughts she didn’t know how to deal with. She been dealing with too much of that lately.
It was only when the shopkeeper knocked on the glass that she was snapped her out of her thoughts, left staring blankly at the confused man in front of her. He mouthed a “Want some sweets?” to her and gesture to come in, but she just quietly scoffed and turned around, stepping away from the shop.
As luck would have it, that was exactly when she saw Bard approaching down the path nestled between bright red trees. She found herself sighing in relief, and her scowl softening as he came closer. And as usual, he was singing all the way, and small animals were looking at him and following him closely, enthralled by his voice.
How the hell he manages to do that, she’ll never understand.
And when the bard saw Miriam waiting for him, that unmistakable goofy grin showed up in his face as his pace quickened to meet up with her. “Hi Miriam!” He greeted with enthusiasm as he stopped right in front of her. The small critters scurried back into the reddish trees as his singing ceased.
“About time you showed up…” She commented, still scowling, but not really angry.
“Sorry if I was late. I should’ve been more specific about when I’d come… but I’m here now! So we can do things!” He replying, quickly brushing off the worry. “Um, what are we doing today?” They hadn’t really talked about that, either… but he didn’t mind. Any time spent with Miriam was bound to be time well spent.
“We have to take care of a few things. Follow me, and try to not get too distracted with other things…” She started explaining, but her voice trailed off as Bard caught the store owner waving at him, and the former waving back, and entering the store, already chatting it up.
Miriam stood there, puzzled for a second, before bringing her fingers to her temples and rubbing them. “Oh Eya this is going to be a long day…” She muttered under her breath, already predicting running errands until sundown if this was the pace at which things would get done.
She thanked Eya that the bard only spend a few minutes inside the shop, and then came out, still with the same smile and attitude, as if nothing had happened. Miriam wondered if things ever got to him. He had told her that they did, but… it was really hard to tell with him. If it was true, he was quite adept at masking it. She did notice, however, while the shop door was slowly closing itself, that the melody playing from inside was new, different. It was… catchy. Fun. Interesting. Slower tempo. Huh.
“Sorry about that, Miriam. But at least I got some candy, he said I could have it as a thank you for being a hero! Want some?” He reached into his pockets and took out some little chocolate pieces in various shapes wrapped in colorful paper. Where did he get those, those actually looked good compared to the stuff she saw…
She pushed all that aside. “No. Now come on, I have a feeling that this will take a while.” She wanted to scold him for that, but… eh, it was alright. Didn’t matter. She started walking uphill into town, Bard dutifully following her as he munched into a few pieces of candy, and singing a few notes in between bites.
The image of the grumpy witch guiding the bardas he sang around town, waving at people and having all of them return the cheer, was starting to get burnt into her brain, even when she tried to not think about it as she checked her list. She was used to it, in a way, but… before, they were heroes on an adventure to save the world, brought together by impending doom and a race against time.
Now that the adventure was over… what were they?
She didn’t know how to answer. Well. She suspected she knew what her answer was. They were friends. Simple as that. And this was just the way friends were, unfamiliar as they were to her, and it would just take some getting used to.
She turned around to look at him. Early on in their journey, the Bard would always follow slightly behind her. But now he was walking right beside her. Closely. It didn’t feel invasive like when anyone other than Saphy tried it, not that she’d let them. It was nice to have company for once for these things. Saphy wasn’t as mobile and couldn’t walk all that much, so she’d send her to do tasks most of the time. And people would keep their distance. So this was… unfamiliar.
But not unwelcome. Not unappreciated.
Well, it wasn’t quite sundown, but it wouldn’t be long until the sun started to hide beneath the distant hills by the time they got down. Both Bard and Miriam were carrying a few bags with various goods and objects inside, an odd assortment, at least as far as Bard considered it. They weren’t too heavy but definitely a bit too much for just one person to carry.
“Well, that’s everything. I’m surprised we got it done as quickly as we did.” Miriam commented, sounding a bit tired and exhausted, but ultimately glad that it was finished.
“See, Miriam? If you’re nicer to people, they can be nice to you back and help you do things faster!” Bard piped up beside her, glad he took the day before this one off, otherwise he’d wouldn’t have been able to keep going like this for almost half a day.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever, let’s just get going. I wanna rest.” Miriam dismissed his point as the path out of town and towards her home came into view. She was just ready to just bring it all home and be done with the day, though she had no doubt that Saphy would ask all sorts of questions about her day. Ever since the adventure started, every single hour she was at home, she’d ask her all sorts of questions, and she didn’t exactly enjoy some of the hidden implications behind some of them. She had enough trouble answering them to herself as it was.
Her train of thought was swiftly brought to a halt by one loud cry. “Ace!”
Miriam stopped in her tracks and turned around to see, just a few houses down the street… a short yet large man with a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a cheap suit. And to his sides, an elegant violinist and someone with an accordion that looked like they would be the textbook example of a wallflower. She remembered them. This was the band from Delphi, that played in Mohabumi that one time they danced together.
Not together. He joined for a bit, and it was two individual dances happening nearby. Anyway, she noticed the singer that they brought along in The Crater wasn’t with them… did they replace them, just like Bard had to be replaced when he left with the pirates?
“Manny! Viola, Ash!” Bard exclaimed, sounding as joyful and excited as one could, and quickly put down what he was carrying to the floor gently, then ran up to his former bandmates.
“My goodness, we meet yet again!” Viola spoke with her usual cadence, carrying her violin case under her arm, wearing what seemed like a new dress.
“I thought we wouldn’t see him again…” Ash said in a low voice, still looking the most glum of the three, and yet their expression somehow looked even so faintly brighter.
“Nonsense, I told ya Ace would come ‘round and we’d catch him!” Manny butted in, his wide smile and expressive arms showing nothing but satisfaction at having Bard in front of him. “Man is it good to see you once again, and it not being so close to the world endin’!”
“I know, I missed you guys!” Bard exclaimed, all the tiredness of the day evaporating at seeing their dear three faces. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to hang around, but it’s been a bit hectic lately and I couldn’t find the time to play with you again.”
“Ah, don’ worry ‘bout it. We understand ya. You stay busy savin’ us all, and we keep their spirits up until you do it.” Manny always had this odd mixture of humility and brashness about him, and Bard wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s true. In fact, as the sky turned darker, more people would gather around us, and we’d play our hearts out to give them hope, as we waited for what would come next. Not the ideal circumstances for a concert, but our attendance numbers and the thunderous applause made up for it.” Viola added, looking decidedly proud of herself.
“Yeah, the little bit of extra cash was nice, but… I’m glad I’m not so nervous on stage anymore…” Ash said, their voice still soft and one that has to be paid attention to, so it didn’t get lost in the background noise.
“I’m so happy to know you guys had awesome and cool adventures!” By this point, Miriam was slowly approaching the little reunion from behind Bard, cursing quietly enough to be incomprehensible to the rest, as she uncomfortably carried everything closer to Bard. Just when she thought she’d finally get away from this place, here he was getting carried away again, more friends coming out of the walls and trees…
“Oh, what happened to Jamie?” The bard asked, looking around but not finding him anywhere in sight.
“That guy? Ah, nothin’ exciting.” Manny explained as the dusking sun reflected off his sunglasses. “Shortly after the gig at The Crater, we all knew that the kid was talented, but none of us were really feelin’ the magic, ya know what I mean? It just wasn’t groovin’. We’ve had a few other guest singers around, since it really completes our little ensemble… but I gotta be honest, none of them were ever as good as you, Ace.” Manny’s face had this glow about it. It wasn’t just the sun; it was the slowly rekindling hope that Bard would join them once again.
“Your sweet vocal tones are what helped bring the band together, after me, of course, and it’s proven impossible to find a comparable replacement.” Viola explained, and though her ego was still showing, it was clear that her comment was sincere.
“Yeah… when you sang for me and my mom, it felt like no one I’d ever heard before. Or since, really.” Ash commented, as Bard listened and his heart felt touched by the comments.
“Ace, I ain’t gonna mince words. I want ya back in the band. I mean, since the world is not ending and all anymore, I think you got the time to jam with us. Whadda say?”
At what at this point that Miriam finally caught up to the rest, wondering just how miffed she ought to be at the bard at the moment. She’d heard Manny’s offer, and now just wanted to hear his reply.
“I’d love to!” Bard replied immediately. Now that he had the time to spare, and wanted to still go on exciting adventures, being part of Manny’s band, knowing that they could travel around like that, was the perfect opportunity. He couldn’t be happier to have this opportunity. “It’d be wonderful to sing along to your music again!”
“That’s just what I wanted to hear, Ace. Welcome back to the band!” He exclaimed with open arms, as Viola and Ash smiled at him, glad to have his again. “Good news, you don’t have to wait to get goin’; our next gig is tomorrow!”
Both Bard and Miriam were taken aback by this, the former looking a little shocked by this. “Tomorrow?”
“Yeah, tomorrow! Don’t worry about it, though, it’s right here in Delphi. We, uh, couldn’t find anyplace else that’d take us so soon. But hey, it’s the band back together right where they started. I’m sure the town would love ta hear you’re there, too! Come on, whadda say? You, us, the Crazy Raven, just like old times!”
“Actually, it was just that one time…” Ash piped up from behind.
“It may be so, but it was a very important time for the band.” Viola pointed out to them, and turned to look eagerly at the bard, still looking surprised. “I do hope you’ll join us once again, and in a more permanent manner.”
“But of course! I’d be happy to sing with you guys tomorrow!” Bard responding, barely containing his glee, and the way he felt like bouncing and bounding around. The four musicians cheered and exchanged pleased looks with each other.
And then Miriam butted in.
“Greeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeat. So you have a concert tomorrow. But for this evening, you and I have some things to get back to my place. So how about you-” She emphasised the word as she shoved a whole bunch of bags into his hands, forcing the Bard to take hold of it. “-grab your share of the stuff, and help me carry this before it gets dark.” And she picked up her own things, and started walking back towards the path, leaving Bard a bit dazed on the spot.
“Ah, it’s fine, Ace. Come back here early tomorrow and I’ll tell you all the details. You just get some good sleep!” Manny give him a thumbs up as the other two nodded in agreement. “See ya tomorrow. But, Ace, buddy… you going back to her place? Eya, that must’ve been some adventure you two must’ve been through if I see this happening!”
Miriam was still within earshot. She stopped dead in her path, then sharply turned her head around to face Manny, with a terrifying, icy scowl, and sparks coming out of her eyes, with magical energy being summoned forth with fury. Manny wasn’t sure if it was the electrical-like magic or the sheer look of violent disapproval in the witch’s face that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He took a step back at her, and Viola and Ash took several more.
“Whoa, calm down, I didn’t mean it like that, jeez… you know what, Ace, it looks like you are gonna be occupied, and have things to deal with, so we’re just gonna scram. See ya soon, kiddo!” Manny hurried through his words, shook the bard’s hand without even waiting for him to extend it, and quickly bolted out of there, Viola and Ash struggling to keep the large man’s surprising pace. Once they had turned the corner, Bard looked back at Miriam. The sparks were gone, but the scowl most definitely was not.
“Ummm, Miriam? Are you okay?” He asked, approaching her slowly.
“Let’s. GO.” Was all she uttered, then marched her way down the path, as Bard was still a bit confused, and did his best to stay beside her, even if she seemed adamant to not look at him at all for most of the trip back to her house.
Chapter 3: Breathtaking Spectacle
Once they were done crossing the crystal caves, her expression had seemed to calm down enough that Bard tried to get her to respond to him once again.
“Hey, Miriam…” He spoke softly, hoping he wasn’t bothering her. At first, she seemed to ignore him, but then she turned her head at him. “Yes?” It was curt, but still willing to listen.
“So, even if you don’t like what Manny said back there…” Miriam’s frow burrowed a bit at that, but he decided to keep going anyway. “Are you coming to the Crazy Raven tomorrow to watch the concert?” The smile on his face was clearly hopeful, and his eyes almost pleaded she said yes.
She kept walking for a bit longer, thinking about her answer. As much as she just wanted to blurt out a simple word, she still felt some hesitation at that. “...I don’t know.” Was her brief answer. It didn’t sound dismissive or uncaring… more like uncertain, unsure.
She wanted to see him. Of course she did. She wanted to hear him sing again. Even if she wouldn’t readily admit, his voice was indeed as beautiful as people would say. When he sang his heart out, it was as if the very earth and air around him would hum in harmony to his will. And it made something inside her stir, a sound that softened her.
She tried to push it away, she really did. She told herself that it wasn’t worth it. What if they had failed? What if she’d been injured beyond recovery?
The very thought of it made a wave of very dull, very faint pain travel up the right side of her torso. She bit her lip, trying to stay in control. She didn’t have all that much time to heal. She practically had to yell at Saphy to let her fly again as soon as she could stand for longer than a minute, once the dizziness and the ache in her muscles had subsided.
“Oh come on, it’ll be fun, I promise!” Bard replied, putting on his typical attitude of cheerfulness and self-confidence. “You missed the first concert we did…” At the time, he didn’t really mind about that, since they had just met. Now, he found himself really wishing that she’d been there for that… but there was this second opportunity to share such a moment. Dancing with her had been… a very important moment for him, and now, he wanted to perform for her. Not just sing an Overseer song, not just use his voice to manipulate the spirit world… but sing for her, properly. “I assure you that we all make a good band, you’ll have a blast! You can dance again!”
“I don’t usually dance.” Was the excuse she was trying to pull. Gah, why was it so difficult to just say yes, to just accept…
“No, but… they made music so good you wanted to! And I’m sure you’ll want to do it again tomorrow!” His presence didn’t change her feelings… did it?
“Ugh, I don’t know. I’m gonna be busy tomorrow, Saphy wants me to do a whole bunch of errands and chores around the place, she said she wants to teach me some new magic, too. Magic that might’ve been useful during our adventure. Seems a bit late to learn it now, but whatever. Saphy knows best.” Truth be told, she wasn’t really looking forward to most of that. But learning magic she still lacked… she’d seen and heard plenty of magic that just seemed so strange… but that’s what being a witch meant, learning so much, one way or another. Apparently.
Bard looked down at the ground, feeling a bit disappointed. He was used to being turned down at times, not everyone readily accepted his efforts. But when it was Miriam rejecting the offer… that just stung. “Miriam…” He spoke, and seeing the house already drawing near, resolved to just say it before she could recede into her home. “I’d actually really like it if you came. I get that you don’t like dealing with people a lot, but…”
It was difficult for Bard to say out loud that something hurt him. That it upset him. That it was making him unhappy. “It’d mean a lot to me if you were there.”
Miriam didn’t reply, but that did catch her attention. She turned to look at him, and his goofy, energetic smile was replaced by a gentler one, filled less with excitement, and more with hope. An expression that told her that he was really serious, that he meant what he said, with a depth and gravitas that his typical personality usually lacked. She had no words; they were all caught in her throat. She could conjure no words anymore. “I…”
“Miriam!” Saphy’s voice cut through the moment like a firework, stunning them both. It was as if she had appeared out of nowhere right in front of them. Had she been standing outside for several minutes, or had they just been so focused on each other so as to completely miss her? “Thank goodness you’re here, it was started to get late… and I see you got Bard to help you out today.”
Miriam cleared her throat, feeling like she was unsuccessfully shrug off a spell off her. “Yes. We got everything. Everything you asked for.” She seemed almost disappointed to be home now.
“Well, that’s lovely. And it’s great to see you still hanging out with Bard; he’s such a lovely young man.” She said, offering him a polite smile. He returned the favor, hiding the disappointment of the unanswered request. “Did you have a nice day with my granddaughter?”
“A wonderful one!” He replied. Even if he was a bit hurt, the answer was still honest. Everything had been a blast, even if Miriam rolled her eyes at him often.
“That’s so nice to hear. And did you two have a nice dinner in Delphi?” Miriam raised her eyebrow at this. Why was she so interested in their day. “As it turns out,” the young witch replied, “We didn’t have dinner at all. I thought you were making it already.”
“What, you’re out this late and you haven’t had dinner? Well, that simply won’t do. Come inside, you’re having a nice warm meal with us.”
“Uh, excuse me?” Miriam interjected, unhappy with the way she was meddling. “Whatever happened to asking about any of this?”
“Oh, don’t be absurd, Miriam, we can’t send him back home at this hour on an empty stomach, that’d just be rude. Besides, you’ve said he makes for some delightful company and that sounds like just the thing for you right now.”
“GRANDMA!” Miriam yelled, a fierce blush threatening to invade her cheeks. At this, Bard’s face suddenly perked up, looking very interested. “She said that?” His feelings were somewhere between being quite flattered, and extremely curious.
“Oh yes, dearie. In fact, Miriam hasn’t been able to stop talking about you ever since she had to come home and heal!” Saphy had this sly smile on her face; she knew exactly what she was doing. But it was very subtle, and Bard was too unsuspecting to even notice.
“That’s just not true!” Miriam was desperately hoping her cheeks weren’t betraying her right about now.
“Don’t pay attention to her, dearie. Now come inside, I’ll make you one mean stew.” Saphy approached her house, with Bard following behind with a new spring in his step. After he entered her home, Miriam standing just outside the doorway, she buried her face in the hemp bag and screamed into it. This was getting severely out of hand. She just hoped beyond hope Saphy wouldn’t make it unsalvageable.
Bard couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten this well. Even yesterday’s thorough tour of Langtree and the cuisine of its inhabitants could not compare to the feast he’d just enjoyed. He had to recline in his chair and take a breather to catch his breath.
“I see you’ve enjoyed yourself thoroughly, dearie.” Saphy spoke, looking across the table at one very satisfied man.
“That was delicious. Thank you so much, I haven’t had a dinner this good in ages.” He said, enjoying both the warmth in the house, and the one in his stomach.
“You’re welcome. This dish is one of Miriam’s favorites. Isn’t that right?” She said, turning to look at Saphy seated between the two.
At this point, Miriam’s face was firmly pressed against the tablecloth, hands grasping strands of hair, refusing to even risk eye contact with anyone. She didn’t even groan a reply. This entire dinner had just been one long string of embarrassments.
“It really is.” Her grandma continued, entirely ignoring her plight. “I hope you enjoyed yourself.”
“I did, this was a great evening.” He answered, though now another concern was starting to weigh heavily in his mind. “I’m really grateful for everything, but it is getting quite late…”
“You’re right, it’d be rude of us to keep you here any longer. Miriam, make sure he gets home safely.” Saphy said, but Miriam remained motionless. “Miriam? You know I can’t carry someone else on my broom at my age…”
“Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine.” Was the sole word that emerged from her lips in response. She reluctantly unglued her face from the table, and could tell that it had left some temporary creases in her skin from being pressed against it like that. “Come on, let’s go.” She said to him, before picking up her broom near the door, and walking outside.
“Goodnight, dearie. See you again soon.” Saphy waved at Bard, and he waved back. “It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for everything. You have a good night, too.” With a smile, he closed the door behind him, and turned to Miriam, all set and ready to go on her broom. “Miriam, you never told me your grandma was so nice and lovely, and all the stuff she said about-”
“Get on, and let’s go.” She muttered through gritted teeth. She hated that her grandma just would not listen to her pleas to be quiet. It was already far too much more than she intended him to hear.
The bard’s smile slowly vanished, but he dutifully sat on the broom behind her. Once he did, Miriam built up a charge of magic boost, and away they flew into the night sky, towards his home.
The red trees, so majestic and impressive from the ground, quickly shrunk until they were but colorful dots upon the land as they rose towards the sky. One could hear the faint sounds of Delphi, some dog barking and someone playing an accordion, and perhaps the chatter of two friends out at night. But as they flew deeper into the woods, and closer to the clouds, even that slowly vanished into silence.
As upset as Miriam was, if there was always one thing that brought peace to her mind, it was riding her broom in the middle of the night. Something about it made everything not matter so much anymore. Flying under the stars, lit by moonlight, feeling a light breeze go through her hair, listening to the rustle of the trees underneath.
She felt free, like there was nothing to hide from up here. Leaving all her worries down in the earth, up here there was nothing but peace, and an understated beauty. Seeing the world from above, all the colors mixing, and the possibility to go anywhere, like one could do anything. In times of solitude, the stars and moon brought her solace and comfort.
But with Bard right behind her, seeing all this with her…
...it felt even better.
All the beauty and joy she found up here, multiplied twofold by his presence, knowing that he would appreciate all of this. That they could share moments like this one.
“It’s really beautiful up here.” He said, quietly, admiring the view from up here.
“...it’s really something.” Was all she said. The sky? The moment? Him? Perhaps all of them at once.
Bard wanted to say something else, but this moment was something that was beyond words to describe, maybe even music. He’d spent all his life looking at this incredible world from the ground, and he already saw so much that was inspiring and amazing… but from up here, with this view… it was nothing short of breath-taking. He’d never thought he could ever be lucky enough to have this… and yet, here he was, and he had to do to touch the clouds was reach out and feel it pass by his fingertips…
It was just… beautiful. To be up here. To be so fortunate. To be able to admire the world he’d save like this, and find it all the more rewarding. And also… the only reason why this was possible…
Miriam’s mind was lost in the moment, too. Despite all the things Saphy had “accidentally” spoken about… in the end she didn’t really mind as much as she thought. It didn’t bother her much that he knew. Some of those things were ultimately silly, just trivial, mundane stuff.
She didn’t share with people. She didn’t want them to get too close. But now that she already had, and there really wasn’t going back… she felt no regret. Embarrassment, sure. But regret… no.
If anything, she was glad. Because he knew… and he was still here, enjoying himself with her. He still wanted to talk with her. All that fear, all that panic… and she could still trust him to have a smile on his face, and an encouraging spirit. For her.
Well, he gave that to everyone. But… it was special to her.
Soon enough, they had arrived to his home. Miriam made sure to perform a soft landing, and Bard hopped off the broom. They had barely said a word to each other, and yet it still felt like it had been so much.
Eventually she was the one to break the silence. “Well, I guess this is goodnight.”
He knew she was right. But there was still this aching that wouldn’t go away.
“Miriam… you never answered me… are you coming to the concert tomorrow?”
Drat, he was right… and there was no excusing herself from the question this time.
But… she didn’t need to. “Yes. I will.” The answer came freely, unafraid. It was the only answer.
The bard smiled wide, like a huge weight had been lifted from his chest. “Thank you.” For a moment, they just remained there, gazing at each other under the moonlight. The reflection of the light made them both seem more ethereal, and glowing with… something.
“Goodnight, Bard.” Miriam spoke, the tiredness finally catching up to her.
“Goodnight, Miriam. See you tomorrow.” He said as he opened his front door, though still looking at her, finding it hard to tear his eyes away.
“See you tomorrow.” And with that, she gently floated off into the night sky once again.
Once she was certain she was too far away to be seen, she left out a tremendous breath as she momentarily hovered in mid-air, pausing her journey back. She had no idea what was going on anymore. She didn’t know what was happening with her. Not a clue what she was supposed to do.
She just hoped that after tomorrow came and went, things would be a lot clearer for her.
“Well, it’s showtime!” Manny declared, clapping his hands and turning to his bandmates. He’s peeked through the curtains, and as he expected, the place was entirely full. So full it was hard to find a clear face among the crowd. The staff had their hands full serving all the customers, some of whom were starting to cheer and beckon for the band. They could all hear the encouragement of the crowd from backstage.
“I hope they don’t mind seeing us again…” Ash commented as they tugged on their collar, feeling the very familiar but no less disquieting performance anxiety creeping up on them.
“Oh, there’s no reason to worry. The crowd wouldn’t yell for us if they didn’t want to hear us, and we’ve only gotten better with time and practice. Or at least I have, but I shan’t be afraid to make tonight’s show shine so splendidly.” Viola tried to reassure, but only half-succeeded.
“It’s been so long since I did this, I hope the crowd likes some of the new things I’ve learned since my last concert,” Bard said. He was still smiling, but he really did feel somewhat uncertain about it. He didn’t often test his material, and it was often loved, but people were indifferent to it often enough that the concern never fully vanished. Indifference to his singing sometimes felt a hundred times worse than outright rejection. But he knew to put on a smile and keep trying anyways.
“What are ya talkin’ ‘bout, Ace? I refuse to believe that any music that came outta your mouth would be anything less than absolutely spectacular. Now, positions everyone!” Manny declared, clapping his hands twice and rushing to the darkened stage, finding his seat upon the drumset. Viola, Ash, and Bard all stood in their designated spots, and waiting for the curtain to rise and the lights to come up.
This was always the most tense moment in the entire performance. The brief seconds of silence right before the start of a show, with nothing to do but wait for what was to come. After a few more endless moments, finally the curtains arose, and the cheers and clapping of the crowd intensified. The spotlights turned on and shone upon the performers. Upon seeing the same faces as they did weeks ago, the crowd roared in approval, before a wave of hushes calmed it down.
Manny slapped his drumsticks together. “One, two, three, four!” And the band began to play.
As soon as the bard began to sing, as if by magic, the whole crowd was entranced. His voice, and the melodies he performed, seemed to bewitch everyone in the club. There was a clear wave of “oooooohs” and “aaaaaaaaahs” as he followed the rest of the band, jamming alongside them, letting the mood of the music guide his emotions and his voice.
He was getting carried away by the music, and little else could compare to this wonderful feeling. He was singing his heart out for a cheering crowd. It didn’t matter that they were making noise; to him the music in his ears was as vivid and colorful as it could ever be. He didn’t even really have to think about it; it was instinct, it was in his nature to know what to do.
He was so caught in the song that he hardly noticed when he, alongside the rest of the band, approached the end of the song, and gracefully reached the finale. As soon as the last echoes of their instruments had subsided, the crowd applauded them joyously. All three standing members took a short bow, and Manny took off his hat to the crowd. But they were just getting started.
As soon as Bard had a segment of time where he didn’t need to sing, he looked at the crowd, trying to not make it too obvious that he was looking for someone in particular. It was hard when the spotlight was on him and the people shrouded in relative darkness. And he still had to pay attention to the band, since they’d only had half a day to rehearse their concert. Ash commented that it was a rare luxury; it wasn’t unusual for Manny to book a gig just hours before it happened.
It was during a particularly lively percussion session, with Ash taking the lead melody, that Bard finally spotted, at the back of the club, the unmistakable Miriam. And yes… she was indeed dancing along to the music. Just the mere sight of it brought a huge grin to the bard’s face, and inspired him to keep the magic going. With even more motivation, he joined in on his cue, and continued to delight the crowd. And Miriam. Now that he knew where she was, he could see that she was letting go of it all, and just dancing along to the music, feeling it, and letting it guide her movements.
If he was honest, the concert was a bit of a blur for Bard. Not because the songs weren’t individually lovely and a blast to sing along, but just that he was so lost in the present, that by the time their last song was up, it felt as though almost no time at all had passed. But he was having the time of his life; he wouldn’t have this concert any other way.
The band decided that the final song was going to be something a little special: Each of the members would have their own little solo segment. Viola, then Manny, then Ash, and at the end Bard, closing out the evening with a held high note, for as long as he cared for, to make sure the concert ended spectacularly.
Viola did her piece and played a frankly stunning virtuoso segment that made some people in the crowd audibly gasp in surprise and awe. When Manny did his funky drum solos, cheers of “yeah!”, “woo-hoo!”, “groovy!” could be discerned amongst the cheers. And when Ash stepped forth and did a slower-paced section, the crowd became quieter to appreciate their efforts, and the sweeping notes. And finally Bard, taking front center stage, taking his famous pose, one hand on chest, the other held high, and leaning forward towards the crowd.
As he sung his piece, he sneaked a peek at where Miriam was. She wasn’t dancing anymore.
She seemed to be completely spellbound by him, his voice, his performance… even if she wasn’t well-lit, he could see that she had this look on her face that he had almost never seen. And it made him feel… special.
And with her in his mind, he reached his final part, and let out a high note that seemed to fill the entire air in the club. And with all the will in his heart and the might of his throat, he held for an impressive amount of time, and once he felt he’d done enough, flourished its end with a confident pose.
The note echoed through the walls and floor in otherwise immaculate silence for a brief moment, before the sound of thunderous applause and cheers and whistles coming from every direction. Bard’s heart felt like it was swelling up with pride and joy.
The footsteps of his bandmates approaching reminded him to bow with them, as the spotlights finally turned off, and the curtain closed on them, barely muffling the volume of the ecstatic crowd.
“I think they liked ya, Ace.”
Miriam was standing just outside the Crazy Raven, feeling the still, cool night air as she stood alone, waiting for him to come out. It was already rather late, as she suspected this might take a while, but she’d already warned Saphy that she might be out late tonight. She refused to explain why exactly, just… she needed to do something important. So she patiently passed the time, admiring the night sky. Even from the ground, it was quite the beautiful sight to behold.
Eventually, she heard familiar voices. From behind the club, bathed in warm light coming from the opened door, she saw the band members, sharing smiles and waving their goodbyes. Manny and Viola departed for their homes, and Ash was returning to their hotel room. And Bard looked around, before quickly spotting Miriam, and approached her with a beaming smile.
“That was a wonderful concert, Miriam!” He said, still energised from the experience. He was tired from singing and dancing, but it was a tiredness he was more than happy to endure. “It was so cool, and so much fun!”
“Yeah, it was…” She said, uncharacteristically passive in her tone.
“I can’t wait to tell you all about it on the way home!” He replied, expecting Miriam to pull out her broom. But he was left in growing surprise as she just… stood there, looking at him. She seemed like she wanted to say something, but had no idea which words to use for the occasion. “Uh, Miriam?” He finally prodded.
“Actually, I… I’m not taking you home just yet.” She confessed, feeling almost guilty. “There’s… something I need to do first.” She was now staring at the floor. Even if she had spent hours trying to prepare for this, it still all felt so clumsy and haphazardous to her.
“An errand?” He wondered aloud, before she responded with a soft scowl.
“No, you dummy, just…” She sighed, realising that this would not be easy no matter what. These things never were. “Let’s go for a night walk. Together.” That last word felt so heavy in her tongue, but so relieving once it was out.
“Oh, sure… where to?” He said as he started walking alongside her. He had no idea what was going on.
“Nowhere really, just… someplace. It doesn’t matter. I just wanted to talk to you, about some stuff. And walking makes it feel not so awkward.” She said, taking whatever path she felt like. Maybe they’d just… walk around Delphi for a bit. Now that the concert was over, and the band was finished having dinner amongst themselves, it was quite late. The streets were deserted and undisturbed. It was almost entirely just them, alone in the moonlit streets, with the occasional pedestrian sighted a few houses away.
“So… did you have fun at the concert, Miriam?” Seeing that Miriam was having trouble breaching any important conversation, Bard decided to take the lead this time.
“Yes. I… danced a lot. More than I ever did in my life. The music was really good. You were amazing. All of you play really well. You should stick together and go places, I think you’d do pretty well for yourselves.” She said, glad that he found something easier to start with. Eya, why did she have to be so bad at this…
“Yeah, we talked about that! I’m thinking… now that the adventure is over, and I don’t have to run around saving the world, maybe I can be a permanent band member! And I get to travel all over the world, and that’s just so cool… I kinda want to see what this world looks like, now that it’s been reborn. I bet it’s even more beautiful than it was before!”
“Yeah… I bet it is, if it was shaped by your voice…” She wasn’t even really thinking about her words. They were just… coming out. Like something she kept caged had suddenly found itself free and with the wings to fly as high as it wanted.
“I saw the way you were looking at me when my singing solo came…” There was a bit of a silence, as he gently asked her. “You… really liked it, didn’t you?”
There was no point in denying it. “Yeah… your voice is… it’s magical. It’s special. I don’t know how, but just… something about the way you can just make music with it is… something that shouldn’t exist, almost. Because it’s too good to be true.”
Bard wasn’t sure if it was the cool night walk or Miriam’s words that made his cheeks blush. He’d received no shortage of praise and compliments tonight… yet somehow those words touched him more than all the other cheers and claps combined.
By now, they had finished circling Delphi, so Miriam just picked a random path. She hadn’t taken this one many times, she just knew that it ended near a small hill pretty much in the middle between the town and her house. There weren’t many reasons to ever visit this place, but… it felt like an attractive place right now. The privacy yet openness of that unremarkable hill were just the things she was looking for at the moment.
Bard was content to just walk beside Miriam, but she knew she couldn’t put this off forever. At some point tonight, she’d have to release the floodgates. She was scared of letting it all pour out of her, but… it couldn’t be better than just bottling everything up, pretending it wasn’t there, when she couldn’t get by a single day without thinking about it.
“Bard, do you remember when we met up in Langtree, when we thought the world was about to end… we…” Eya almighty, why her. Why her with her stupid feelings and not having any of the words she needed. “Argh, sorry let me try again.”
“It’s okay… take the time that you need.” He reassured her, her strain and struggle to speak becoming quite visible.
“Back then, I… I told you I was scared. And I said that because I thought we could fail. I thought that we wouldn’t get there in time. Maybe we would get there, but we wouldn’t get the song. Maybe it wouldn’t even work.” She caught her breath. She tried to focus on her walking but all she could think about was about… feelings. Or just how thinking about feelings was weird.
“I was more scared than I’ve probably ever been. But… one of the reasons that I was scared, was that… when you went to the mountain alone, and I stayed at home moping and feeling sorry for myself, I…” Come on. Compose yourself. This won’t do anyone any good if you can barely get it together.
“Miriam… look, there’s a hill over there. How about we just… stop for a little bit, sit there, and… we can talk about this.” He offered her, as he started to drift from the path, and guided her with shuffling footsteps to the peak of the hill. The quiet rustle of shoes on grass was the only noise as they sat down on the smooth terrain. It offered a delightful view of Delphi’s red trees and sinuous landscape, and in the distance, a tranquil, secluded lake, illuminated only by the full moon, visible only from above the treelines.
They both just sat here for a minute, taking in the view, as a delicate and ever-so-soft breeze was the only thing left between them, and Miriam finally gathered up her courage.
“I was scared… of losing you.”
It was like a weight had been lifted off her chest. It was terrifying, but… she’d wanted to say it so bad.
“I was scared… that I wouldn’t get to see you again. That you’d… die, in Ichor Mountain. Alone. And you’d feel awful because you couldn’t be the hero you wanted to. And I just… couldn’t… take that.”
Bard wasn’t sure what to say, so he remained silent this time. And she was fine with that. She mostly just wanted to get it all out of her system. And the fact that he was sitting just an arm’s length away… it helped. More than she expected it would.
“I wanted to just jump off my bed and come fly straight to you.” Wow, that sounded… just way worse than she thought it would. This is why she sucked at this, why she shouldn’t try… and yet… “But Saphy told me to lie down and heal. And it still hurt pretty bad, so I did.”
“I think all I did was talk to Saphy about you. A lot more than I thought I would. I realised that… I just couldn’t leave you. I couldn’t. As soon as I could fly a broom for long enough, I flew to Langtree where I knew the last nexus point was.”
“And when I saw that you were alive… alive and okay, I just… wanted to… hug you.” She hated that, but it was true. That this thing about physical contact that she would normally not even allow… but for him, and him alone… it was okay. More than okay. It was… what she wanted, for herself. She wanted it. Because it felt… really, really nice to hug him. When he first put his arms around her and embraced her… the pain of the injury and the weight of the quest, just for a moment, ceased to exist.
“And when I told you all this stuff, as much as I could anyway, and you acted like it was no big deal, I got mad. Because… I was worried about you, because I cared, about YOU. And… when you said it was okay, I was afraid…” Fear, dread, uncertainty, anxiety, panic… all of that, flooding her brain whenever she approached the subject. “I was afraid that you didn’t feel that way about me. That you didn’t… care that I cared about you.” She finally had the courage to look him in the eye, and she had no idea how vulnerable her expression made her look.
Bard could only look at her as he felt his heart twisting and turning inside his chest. The notion that his instinct to hide his negative emotions, instead of leading to harmony and inspiration, had caused Miriam, of all people, to feel pain like that… he could feel his insides protesting. He could not, would not, let this happen.
“Miriam… I’m… really sorry. I didn’t mean to do that to you. The truth is… I really care about you. I… I was scared of that, too, but… I learned that people always want to see happiness, and positivity, and good feelings. And that all of the other stuff just makes others feel worried and upset. So that’s why I put on a smile all the time… because people see a happy Bard, and they think everything’s okay.”
“But is it?” Her question echoed in his mind. He didn’t have an answer prepared for that. “Bard, you’re a strange, weird guy. But I care about you. And that means that I care if you’re okay. If you really mean what you say, and what you sing. It’s not okay to lie about these things, it’s better to just be honest.”
Being honest… he was good at that. Except when it came to himself. Then… perhaps it was just easier to say what people wanted to hear. That’s what he did, that’s why he sang. But now Miriam was asking for the plain truth. And… she was being so open now, more than any other night of bonding… she deserved to hear it. If there was anyone he could trust to understand, it was her.
He spoke. “I… was also scared. I also… really wanted to see you again. And that’s what kept me going through everything. I wanted to be a hero, and save the world… but also do it with you. I really could not have done any of this without you, Miriam. People call me the hero, but to me, you are just as much a hero. You are MY hero. You saved me so many times.”
That was the easy part. But now, the harder facts. “I was… upset when you got injured. That you couldn’t come with me. It wasn’t fair. At all. And as I climbed the mountain… and I didn’t have someone to come with me… I felt lonely. I… wanted to have you with me, but I felt I couldn’t ask. I had to continue the adventure, even if... “ Was this really what a hero did? “Even if, truth be told, I wanted to stay with you while you healed. I thought you wouldn’t see me as a hero if I stopped. I felt I had to continue, and wasn’t given a choice but to leave you behind.”
Nothing but the sound of grass blades lightly rubbing against each other in the undisturbed night.
He sighed, preparing himself for complete honesty. It was a lot to confess, but… she wanted to know. And if she wanted it, then… why would he say no?
“Miriam… I said that I loved you, as a friend. And that’s still true!” A slight pause, where she could do nothing but listen. “But… Miriam… maybe I… I love you… as more than a friend.”
He fell silent, and looked into her eyes. Deep, deep into those shining orbs. What did he find? Surprise, rejection, admiration, kindness…?
“Bard…” Was all she could exhale. How, how in Eya’s rainbow earth does one reply do that to her heart? “I… I think… I love you as more than a friend, too.” Her head was kicking and screaming, yelling at herself for everything… but in her heart, she was feeling a freedom and clarity that she’d never felt before. Her heart was racing, spinning, dancing with so many emotions.
“You… do?” He asked back, somewhere between stunned incredulity, and unbelievable joy.
“I… am not good with feelings. So… I’m not sure what this is, but… yeah… I think I do. At first I didn’t think much about you at all. But now, after these weeks, being all over the world, helping you save it… I now have these… feelings and stuff, and they’re weird, and I don’t know what to do with them. All I know is they’re there because of you. And now I can’t stop thinking about you.”
“Miriam, I feel the same way!” He said, getting even closer to her, and letting a genuine, real smile, slowly form upon his lips. “I wanted to be a hero all along, but then I realised I couldn’t do it without you. I’m… a bit of a lame hero without having someone there who is reliable and always bails me out when I mess up.” He got even closer to her. “And… whenever I felt like I wasn’t going to succeed and make it, you were there, to give me confidence, and hope, and strength.”
Once he'd started opening up, it'd become so much easier to just keep confessing his true feelings. “I know I look like I always have all that, because of my smile and how I act. But… truth is, I need that from someone else, too. And you do that for me, so well. I feel like I can keep on going and trying my best, because when I feel weak inside, and like I can only hide all this fear and weakness… you make it feel less hollow inside.”
She had no words. There were none that could ever describe what her mind was going through; it was completely lost, drowning in emotions she had never felt this intensely in her whole life. Her face, usually so sharp and uninviting, now looked delicate under the moonlight. Feeling an uncharacteristic boldness burning from within, the bard gently placed his hand on top of hers. She could only leave her mouth open as he tenderly caressed her fingers, with the care and gentleness one would have with the most fragile instrument in the world.
But it was she who eventually opened her hand, and let their fingers intertwine. He lightly squeezed her hand, and she squeezed back. He gave her a sweet smile, and finally, even with tightened cheeks, she returned it back at him. He couldn’t help but think she looked… rather beautiful with a smile upon her lips. And she believed that even if he was a bit goofy at times… he was handsome in his own way, sincerely.
They stayed like this for a little while, until he suggested something else: lying with their backs to the grass, staring at the night sky, and still holding hands. She didn’t understand why, but followed his idea anyway.
And so, the bard and the witch rested upon the hill, eyes towards the same hope-filled sky, finding beauty and promise in every star. And all the way, never letting go of their hands. They kept them connected, in contact, a tactile reassurance of their presence, and as terrifying as confessing their feelings had been… after that, they felt more real, and powerful than ever.
“I’m really happy I met you, Miriam.”
“...me too, Bard.”
And in their first night truly together, what they found in each other’s hearts, was more beautiful and wonderful than any dream they had even imagined.
Thank you for reading my story.
Besides being grateful for giving me your time and attention, I would like to give thanks to my two proofreaders, who have both been immensely helpful in making sure this story was as good as I could make it.
To my long-time friend Silver, a talented writer in her own right, who thoroughly corrected mistakes, improved word order in some places, and even added a few lines here and there to really add to the writing. Without her this project would’ve looked so much rougher and amateurish. Check out her own writing here.
To my lovely friend Laur, who checked that the characterisation was on point, that there were no inconsistencies with the game itself, and overall making sure it felt as close to Wandersong as possible. And last but not least, for introducing me to Wandersong to begin with. Check out her writing here.
And of course, to the amazing Wandersong devs for creating a true gem of a game. The music, colors, and tone of the game really make it special and just a pure joy to play and see it being played. To Greg, Em, and Gord, thank you so much for what you’ve done. It has inspired me to write with a passion and fervor that I’d been lacking for a long time.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my story.
Edit: The amazing community artist richy_nepp has made some lovely fanart based on my story! Check it out here.