Interlude 1: On This Magic Night
[BGM: Welcome to Whitespell]
The common room of the apprentice's quarters was abuzz with excitement as Dawn, Ethani, Ash, and many of the apprentices turned out to watch Brock perform. The crowd formed a rough circle around the center of the common room, with Ash seated at a table near the left wall, fingering the Dreamer's Flute as Ethani and Dawn arrived and made themselves at home. Brock's other instruments lay nearby, with the cadena close by Ash's arm and a number of flutes and whistles in a heap in the center of the table. Pikachu romped up to the cadena and gingerly plucked a string, but Ash shooed him away before Brock arrived to tune it.
"Welcome, all." Ethani began. "Our holy sanctuary is safe again, thanks to all your brave efforts." Cheers filled the air. "In commemoration of our victory, Sir Brock of Hopea has agreed to perform for us this evening, including a song of praise to Anima in thanks to Her guidance in the battle this afternoon." Applause went up as Brock entered the "circle", harp in hand.
After a moment to collect his bearings, Brock set down his harp and plucked a single D note on the cadena, humming the note back before singing A couerl once went on the prowl, some souls of pure heart to slay...she saw a temple in the wood, and thought, "Oh fabulous day! There's men and ladies of light inside, so when I've had my fill, I'll gather their bones in a neat pile, and take their souls to the hill!" Well, the lads and lasses of the light, they heard the couerl call, and pooled their holy powers into a sparkling wall. "You'll not set foot on holy ground and defile this special place!" The cries of warning filled the air as behind the wall she paced... Ash smiled as Brock told, in song, the story of the battle that had taken place hours before--the frantic planning session, his leading the charge into battle, the couerl attacking back and paralyzing many, a minstrel about to attack being pinned down on the outcropping overlooking the temple gate, and Roni coming to the rescue, culminating in the casting of Anima no Espada.
"His voice sounds much like his harp..." Dawn smiled, enraptured in Brock's strong and melodic tenor. "If only I could sing with no accompaniment at all..."
"It takes practice, Dawn..." Ethani whispered back before leading the applause at the song's conclusion.
Brock acknowledged his applause, then retreated to the table, where he sat down before the cadena. "And now, here's a tune that I like to call 'Kissa's Reel'" he began as he slipped on two of the protective sleeves and began strumming a brisk melody in D major, prompting some in the crowd to run out to the floor and dance as everyone else clapped along.
Inspired, Ash joined in on the Dreamer's Flute with the tune "The Rainbow Flower", followed by "The Maid of Whitespell". He took a shy bow when Brock acknowledged him at the set's conclusion. I've only been practicing those for three weeks now... he thought as Brock reached for his harp and got up from the table, playing a quiet melody that signaled he was going to spin a tale next.
"Does anyone have a tale they would like to hear?" Brock asked the crowd. "I felt that on this night, this night of celebration, I should tell the stories you would enjoy the most."
"Tell the one about the scholars that caught a thief!" a female apprentice near Dawn's chair begged.
[BGM: A Tale of Wonder]
"Very well..." With that, Brock played a quiet flourish on his harp before beginning "A long time ago in a land far away from here, it was the custom for children who wished to study to travel across the land, learning anything and everything they could. Many set out on this journey, studying with mages, clerics, astrologers, poets, and minstrels, to name a few professions, and they all grew to be fine men and women. The only problem was, no one wished to hire them, and so they were very poor."
"Was the king worried?" a young female apprentice asked.
"Oh, he was very worried about the many poor students that wandered the land." Brock replied. "He did not know why anyone would choose to be poor, and was deeply concerned about what all those students would do. So one day, he called his advisors together and made a bold accusation: the many wandering students were actually thieves." Gasps go up from the crowd at this.
"How could he do such a thing?" Ethani asked. "The students only wished for knowledge, not material things!"
"The advisors felt the same way as you, Lady Ethani, and tried time and time again to assure the king that the students only wanted knowledge." Brock continues. "But the king would have none of it, and issued a proclamation throughout the land: anyone who had evidence of thievery was to be arrested."
"But the students are innocent!" a Spearmaster protested.
"How would they catch a potential thief?" a Blademaster wondered.
"The advisors asked the same question, and the king told them of his strategy." Brock replied, playing a tense riff. "He commanded the guards to scatter gems all over the palace grounds, then invite the students to the palace. Anyone who even picked up a gem would be arrested." Murmurs wafted through the crowd at this. "The guards did as they were told and sent word to all the students in the land that the king wished to see them and honor them. But not all the students were enthused by a visit to the palace--some of them were suspicious, as the king had always been wary of young scholars like them. After some discussion, they concluded that there was a plot involved, and that they would find a way to outwit him."
"So what did they do?" a male apprentice asked.
"The students gathered in the palace courtyard early the next morning, where the king welcomed them and invited them to mingle in the royal garden." Brock continues. "They mingled all day, ever aware of the glittering rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds, pearls, and other gems all around them, but no one stopped to pick them up, for they also saw the guards keeping watch everywhere they looked.
When the sun was setting and the students had left, the king asked how many students had picked up a gem. The guards said that they saw no one pick any gems up, but when the king looked out on the palace grounds, there were no gems to be found." He punctuates this with an upward glissando.
"Wait...if no one picked a gem up, then how could they all be gone?" Dawn asked, confused.
"The king demanded an answer to your question, Lady Dawn, and the guards pleaded many times that they had done as they were told." Brock replies. "The captain of the guard proposed that the king invite the students back to the palace in hopes of finding the thief. So word was sent that the king was holding a great feast in the student's honor, and all the students in the land were to attend. The students came in full force, and ate and drank while mingling with one another. But this time, the king had sent spies into the crowd in hopes of hearing someone boasting of wealth--if they did hear such boasting, they would mark that person with a black star on their hands--the mark of a thief."
"So did he ever catch anyone?" Ash was interested in the story now. Pikachu swallowed hard, worried for the students.
Brock smiled as he played another interlude--it was time for the big twist in his tale. "The evening wore on and it seemed like no one would ever find a thief in the crowd of students. So when a spy overheard a girl talking about how she had picked up gems by coating her sandals in wax, he made the black star mark on her hand as she set down her drink.
The king offered the students a bed for the night, so they wouldn't have to travel home in the dark. The next morning, as the students departed, the king looked to see which of the many students had the black star on their hand. "But to his surprise, he saw that every student present, man and woman, had the black star! The king was furious, and arrested the spy for lying to him, for it would be impossible to prove who the thief was if they were all marked. The king's proclamation was rescinded soon after, but only the students knew the truth--they had all drawn the mark on themselves to confuse the king, for if everyone was marked there would be no proof that any among them were thieves. They were hailed as heroes for showing the king's folly, and many found work because of their cleverness...and that ends the tale of 'To Catch a Thief'." Everyone applauded.
"I would like to hear a tale about the Lady...." Ethani requested.
Brock thought for a moment, then began. "Once, the Great Goddess Anima decided to visit the Mortal Realm, as She often does when She wishes to test our faith...."
Ash listened, enthralled, as Brock wove tales about how Anima rewarded the humble, why it rained when Lotads called, how a Wartortle outsmarted Sorin and his makeshift trap, and a day when the Pokemon danced, adding in a few tunes on the Dreamer's Flute when prompted.
The songs and stories continued late into the night, and for just one night, Ash forgot about his impending expedition into the catacombs....
To Be Continued...