Episode 23: An Aura of Ice
[BGM: To The Mountains!]
"I am so glad to be out of that cave!" Ash smiled as he lead the way out of the cave the next morning and onto the miraculously cleared trail.
"Likewise, I am glad my shelter served you well for a night." Saidas replied as she landed before the group aboard Articuno.
"It wasn't the best accommodations in the world, but we made the most of it." Dawn assured Saidas as she wrapped her cloak around her.
"Can you tell us anything about where your Bead is?" Ash asked as the group started down the trail. Saidas and Articuno led the way, then Ash followed with Brock by his side. The girls were behind them, with the Pokemon bringing up the rear.
"The mayor of Chairo can grant you access to the icy caves that lie within the Frosty Forest." Saidas explained. "I left my Aquamarine there to further deter demons from trying to take it-if they didn't succumb to the cold first, they would lose their way in the forest."
"But didn't Anima say that the mayor's daughter is sick?" Dawn asked.
"That is correct-and he will not grant anyone access to the caves until she is cured." Saidas replied before preparing to take off. "This newcomer will help you find a cure." With that, she motioned to Articuno, who soared off into the pallid blue sky.
Ash shielded his eyes from the sun for a moment before noticing some wisps of smoke in the distance. "We're not too far-I can see the smoke from the chimneys."
"I'll be so glad to be out of this snow and inside an inn!" Dawn heaved a sigh of relief as she followed the boys around a corner and down a path lightly dusted with snow into town.
[BGM: Sakura turns to Ice]
"Charming..." Janine mused as she admired the sturdy wooden houses lining the path.
"Milina told me once that the houses of Chairo are reinforced with enchanted stone to lend them extra strength in the harsh cold." Ash noted, pointing out a small stone tightly embedded between the wooden planks of a house.
"We're approaching the inn." Brock noted as the group walked into the town square, where a steady stream of people were criss-crossing between the various shops. Some children were nearby the well building a snowman, paying no heed to the group of travelers headed for the inn nestled between the general store and the smith's shop at the west end of the square.
Dawn was first to enter the inn, where the aroma of cinnamon filled the air. "Mm...smells good in here..."
"I'm glad-we're making cinnamon bread, Lady of Light." the innkeeper replied as he set a loaf of bread out to cool. "I have some slices already prepared, if you want any."
Janine found a plate of sliced cinnamon bread on a table in the northwest corner on the room and gingerly took a bite. "Hm...very chewy and sweet..."
"Reminds me of Mom's baking at home." Ash agreed as he took a slice of the swirled bread, warily eyeing the red haired girl clad in royal blue armor seated at the counter. "In addition to bread, she would back cookies, pies, and all kinds of sweet treats."
"My mom baked as well, but it is her cinnamon bread I remember most." Dawn replied before biting into a slice of the warm bread. "This bread is very close to her recipe."
"You must have traveled far..." the innkeeper continued as he slid another pan of dough in the oven. "Wherever your journey leads you, we're grateful you decided to stop here...name's Kellan, by the way."
"Pleased to meet your aquaintence, Kellan." Brock replied as Kellan came to meet them. "In return for your bread and hospitality, would it be acceptable for me to share a few tales and tunes?"
Kellan's eyes lit up when he saw the emblem of Amhran Hall that was stamped on Brock's harp case. "Of course-it's not often that minstrels travel all the way out here. Do well and you can have all the bread you wish."
"Before I begin, I would like to introduce myself and my companions." Brock continued as he took his harp from its case and started to tune. "I am Sir Brock of Hopea, and this is my companion, Kissa." Kissa gently nuzzled Kellan and purred as a servant girl spread a rug on the floor by Brock's chair and set a bowl of milk on it.
"Made an archmage happy enough to give you speech, did you?" Kellan laughed as he admired Kissa's tiara.
"I didn't-it was my master that pleased the Archmage of Miranai." Kissa giggled, slightly embarrassed.
Ash took another slice of bread from the plate before beginning "I am Ash of Masuliro, good sir-third year of the Seventh Raikou."
"Dawn of Whitespell-Bowmaster of Anima." Dawn smiled as she set her bow and quiver by her chair.
"I am Janine of the Kimura clan of Miyakawa Village." Janine replied before giving Kellan a polite bow.
"Pleased to meet all of you." Kellan smiled before calling to the patrons and those entering the inn "Hear ye, friends! A minstrel from Hopea has braved the mountain's chill to share his skill and warm our hearts this afternoon."
The red haired knight balked at the mention of Hopea. Could it be? Nah, it couldn't-I'll listen and find out for myself if this is the same minstrel...
Brock acknowledged his applause, took his harp as he got up from his chair, and began to play his familiar introduction, making a smile creep across the knight's face. There's his introduction song...now to see how well he weaves a tale.
"My first tale for you comes from the five ninja villages." Brock began as he played. "It is a tale of a young maid captured by a fearsome dragon-which kind depends on which of the villages you visit-and how her brother rescues her with an unusual weapon..."
"Is he telling 'The Little Gold Flute'? Dawn gasped, excited.
"Sounds like it..." Ash agreed. A wry smile formed on his face as he fished out the Dreamer's Flute and laid it on the floor by another table-if Brock WAS telling that story, he would be more than happy to provide the sound for the titular instrument!
"I would be honored to play a role myself." Janine added as she heard the crowd cheer in response to Brock's request to tell the tale.
[BGM: A Tale of Wonder]
Once sure he had the crowd's attention and all was quiet, Brock began. "It is said that long ago, in a place far from here, there lived a mother and her daughter. Since the daughter loved the color red very much, she was named Akaiko, which means 'red child'. One day, as they worked in the fields, a great Charizard flew down from the sky and snatched Akaiko in his claws." He played a downward glissando to illustrate this. "Akaiko's last words to her mother as she was carried away were..."
"Mother, my mother, so dearest to me, someday my brother will come rescue me..." Janine interjected as Akaiko.
"I have lost my only child..." Dawn sighed as the mother over a sad interlude from Brock. "Who could this brother be?"
"Some time passed, and the mother had a second child, a son." Brock continued over his song. "The child was born looking up at the sky in wonder, so he was named Aozora, or 'blue sky'. The mother wished for Aozora to rescue his sister, but couldn't bear to give her son such a dangerous quest. So, for many years, she locked herself in her room and wept late into the night." As he finished the interlude, he continued "But one day, a Murkrow happened to land by a window and said to her..." He switches to a gravely voice reminiscent of a Murkrow. "Your sister's suffering way out there! Weeping in that Charizard's lair! Ruby red stains upon her back, digging up rocks with hands so bare!" The crowd roared with laughter at this for a moment. As himself, Brock continued "Aozora happened to overhear this, and asked his mother..."
"Is it true I have a sister?" Ash filled in Aozora's line.
"You speak true..." Dawn replied. "Because she loved the color red so much, she was called Akaiko, the red child. That evil Charizard who has slain so many took her from me ten years ago."
"Aozora took up a large stick..." Brock continues, prompting Ash to pick up a long stick by the table. "and said..."
"I'm going to slay that Charizard, and save my sister!" Ash triumphantly declared in character as Aozora. "Then he will never harm our land again!" He slammed the stick on the floor to prove his point, prompting some applause from the crowd.
Very clever of him to get his traveling companions involved! the knight smiled as she watched the unfolding performance. This is definitely the minstrel I remember!
"Aozora left early the next morning, and walked for many miles." Brock continues as Ash walked around the room for a moment. "As he wound around a mountain road, he saw a large rock blocking the way-and if he didn't remove it, it would mean a potentially deadly fall." At this, Ash stopped walking and examined an imaginary rock. "He thrust his stick under the rock and pushed with all his might..." Ash pretended to push against something heavy. "but his stick broke with a snap!" He played a loud jarring chord to mimic something breaking, allowing Ash to discretely return the stick to its proper place. "Then, Aozora picked up the rock, and threw it into a ravine with all his strength." Brock narrates as Ash picked up the imagined rock and tosses it away. "When Aozora looked in the place where the rock had been, he saw a tiny gold flute." Ash picked up the Dreamer's Flute, which is now lying by his feet. "So after examining it for a moment, he picked it up and blew a single clear note..." At this, Ash blew a single high D note. "He tried a few more notes..." Ash started going up the D major scale. "before trying to play a tune. No sooner had he begun playing, did all the Pokemon of the mountain come to listen and dance to the little flute."
Pikachu danced out onto the floor as Ash performed a quick reel. "But as soon as Aozora stopped playing..." Ash finished his song to some applause. "the Pokemon stopped dancing." Brock waited as Pikachu retreated to a chair by Kissa's rug before going on. "Aozora took the little flute with him, and continued on his way. Before long, he came to the Charizard's cave high on the mountain. While the Charizard was sleeping, the sheer number of human and Pokemon bones nearby were a testament to how many others had tried to save Akaiko and failed." The crowd murmured as Brock goes on. "Aozora also saw a familiar girl in red hammering away at the rock, with tears streaming down her face." Janine got on her knees and pretended to hammer at some rock while feigning sadness. "Although the girl wanted to cry out very much, if she ever did so, the Charizard would burn her with his flaming tail and scold her, saying..." He switched to a deep gravelly voice for the Charizard. "Ungrateful, loathsome Mistress Red! Since with me you will not wed, day by day, rock by rock, carve for me a handsome cave, or else I'll send you to your grave!" Gasps went up from the crowd-even the knight swallowed hard in fear as Brock continued "Aozora recognized the girl as his sister, Akaiko, and so he charged into the cave and shouted..."
"Wicked monster, Evil fiend! For torturing my sister so!" Ash announced as he strolled into the center of the room to some cheers. "Till your wretched life shall end..." he warned, retrieving the Dreamer's Flute from his pocket. "On this flute I shall blow and blow!" With that, he started another reel.
Brock continued over the music "Aozora then began to play the little flute, and the Charizard danced in spite of himself." Laughter filled the air as the crowd pictured a Charizard dancing to the lively melody. "Akaiko, meanwhile, abandoned her chiesel and hurried outside to watch." Janine ran over to another part of the room. "Aozora continued to play, and the Charizard continued to dance-the faster Aozora played, the faster the Charizard danced." The crowd laughed as Ash sped up his reel. "Akaiko came close to Aozora, wishing to speak to her brother, but she was very aware that if Aozora stopped playing, the Charizard would eat them both." Janine walked up by Ash's side and waved to get his attention, but Ash waved her away as he finished his tune. "Finally the Charizard pleaded..." He then heaves in character "Human, I see that you are stronger! Play no more, torture me no longer! I will send the girl home if you just leave me alone!" As himself, he continued as he played along with Ash. "Yet Aozora did not stop playing. As he played, he led the Charizard to a great lake. The Charizard fell into the water with huge splash, making the water level rise several feet. He again pleaded with Aozora..." As the Charizard again, he pleads "Human, I said that you were stronger! Let me stay inside this pond, and torture folk no longer!" as Ash finished his second tune. "Aozora replied..."
"Evil fiend, this is my bargain..." Ash intoned as Aozora. "Stay at the bottom of the lake, and never do harm again."
"With that, the Charizard sank to the bottom of the lake..." Brock continued. "Aozora took Akaiko by the hand..." Ash and Janine held hands. "and set out for home. They had not gotten very far when they heard splashing from the lake." Ash and Janine look behind them and feign fear. "The Charizard emerged from the lake, determined to kill the both of them."
"And then what happened, Sir Minstrel?" the knight asked after a few tense seconds of silence.
"Akaiko cautioned..." Brock continued.
"You go deep when digging a well, and you pull up roots when plowing a field, but while that Charizard lives, to kind ways he will not yield." Janine filled in the dialogue.
"Aozora raced back to the lake's shore, playing the little flute all the while..." Brock continues, prompting Ash to play yet another reel. "He played for seven days and nights, until the Charizard's body came floating back to him." Ash concluded this tune to some applause. "Sister and brother returned home, Aozora carrying the Charizard's corpse in his arms." Ash walked up to Dawn with Janine and pretended to offer something to Dawn. "When the mother saw her two children returning, she smiled with great joy, and ran to embrace them." Some "Aww"s go up from the crowd as Dawn hugs Ash and Janine. "They used the Charizard's scales and bones to build a house..." Janine, Ash, and Dawn mimiced picking off scales and building. "and the Charizard's teeth as plowshares...and using these plowshares, they never went hungry again." Janine, Ash and Dawn mimiced digging in dirt. "Yet Aozora kept the little flute with him, just in case he needed its song again." Ash added a little flourish on his instrument before Brock interjected "The end."
The knight got up from her seat as the crowd cheered and coins rained into Brock's harp case. "It is you! The same minstrel I heard while passing through Kesara last summer!"
"I remember you too, Lady Knight-I tried begging for food from your plate." Kissa giggled as the knight stooped down to pet her.
"As do I-your laughter was the heartiest when I told 'The Boastful Suitor'." Brock smiled as he began counting the coins that had showered inside his harp case. "You never got the chance to introduce yourself, if memory serves..."
"I am Dame Misty de Juras, a water Aura Knight serving Mavi." the knight replied. "A pleasure to meet you all."
"Well, what brings you to this icy place, Lady Knight?" Dawn asked as she helped Brock count coins.
"I came searching for the three others in my training squadron, who were captured by eisfay." Misty replied. "While my superiors at home presume them dead, I have faith that they are somewhere in Yoso, alive. I was hoping the mayor of this place would help me out, but I can't go into the ice caves to look for eisfay until his daughter is cured."
"Likewise, Lady Knight, we were hoping to search the ice caves for one of the Beads of the Elements." Brock started as he showed Misty the necklace thread where Anima's Diamond and Raissel's Emerald hung.
"What do you know of the sickness the mayor's daughter suffers from, Misty-sama?" Janine wondered.
"The healers of the town have managed to develop a healing potion, but lack one crucial ingredient that grows in the forest." Misty replied. "That, and the mayor's going bonkers wondering why he keeps hearing someone singing inside the ice caves..."
"Then why don't we work together?" Ash suggested.
"Huh?" Everyone turned to look at Ash, confused.
"We help the knight find any information about her comrades, and in return, she helps us through the ice caves." Ash explained, nervously hoping that Misty would find his proposal enticing.
"A wonderful idea." Kissa mused.
[BGM: A Promise to Unleash the Colors (theme of the heroes)]
Misty thought for a moment. "Your proposal is sound, but before I accept, I want to see how well you all work as a team by helping the healers out-of course, I will come along to help you."
"Deal!" Ash smiled as he and Misty shook hands.
To Be Continued...