suspicious_popsicle: (Default)
Story: Festival of the Dead
Series: Tales of Vesperia
Pairings: Ristelle, implied Fluri
Warnings: mention of character death

A/N: Eighteen years after the defeat of the Adephagos, Flynn prepares for a day of remembrance and celebration.

Gift fic written for Aittla on tumblr. ^^ <3

Disclaimer: The characters and settings in this story are from Tales of Vesperia and do not belong to me.



Bright spots of color were blossoming all throughout the streets of Zaphias. Eighteen years to the day after the defeat of the Adephagos, the city was preparing for the holiday that had sprung from that time of trial. The Festival of the Dead was as bright and celebratory an affair as anything the city had ever seen, a time to remember the lost with love and fondness. It was hard to believe that nearly two decades had passed, but in that time, the tradition had taken root and spread throughout Terca Lumireis. People across the world would be lighting candles come evening, remembering loved ones who had passed, honoring their ancestors and the heroes who had shaped their lives and their cities, and celebrating the great gift of life with their friends and families. For one night, no one would go hungry, no children would shiver alone in the dark. As Flynn helped with the preparations in the Lower Quarter, he smiled to think how much he and Yuri would have loved the Festival when they had been growing up.

All around him, the streets of the Lower Quarter were alive with activity. People were hanging bundles of many-petaled flowers in vibrant shades of yellow, orange, and magenta. Paper garlands lacy with their cut out designs stretched across doorways and store fronts, from lantern post to lantern post along the street. Flynn himself was up a ladder, hanging a string of paper lanterns between two posts. The brightly painted skull faces on them grinned at him as he worked.

The scents of flowers and aromas of fresh baking filled the air, and the streets were awash with talk and laughter. Children ran through the crowds, their high voices punctuating the cacophony as they shouted and shrieked laughter. Many of them had had their faces painted to resemble skulls, but with bright embellishments covering brow and cheeks. That was a tradition newly borrowed from Nordopolica, where contenders in the day's coliseum fights would paint their faces in honor of past warriors. The crowds come to watch the battles had picked up the custom and added their own stylized flair. Watching a group of children weaving through the crowds, brandishing wooden swords at each other, Flynn couldn't help but smile at the memories they called up for him. The path that had led him—brought the entire world, really—to where it stood today had begun in much the same way on the streets of the Lower Quarter with a friend, a sword, and a promise.

“Hey, Flynn!”

He looked down at the shout and saw Ted grinning up at him near the foot of the ladder. Ted had grown into a fine man over the years, and a knight that Flynn was proud to have under his command. At the moment, however, he was just another citizen of the Lower Quarter, rushing around to help with preparations. He carried a basket full of fresh-baked rolls which let off an enticing aroma that set Flynn's mouth watering. As if realizing that, Ted picked one up and tossed it easily up to him.

“Thank you,” Flynn called down. “I'll share it with Yuri later.”

Ted could have expected no less. He waved and took off about his errands, leaving Flynn to finish his own tasks. There was still a lot to be done even as the festive atmosphere meant that none of it felt like work. Briefly, he glanced toward the Comet. He'd set up the offering table there earlier so that it would be ready for Yuri's return. Smiling, he pocketed the roll and got back to tying off the string of lanterns.

As he finished and looked up, he happened to catch sight of a familiar face in the crowd.

“Karol!”

Flynn's shout got his attention. Karol perked up, looking around until he spotted Flynn atop the ladder. A huge smile lit his face as he waved. His movements still held the exuberance that Flynn had seen in him as a child, though he was now a man grown. Hurrying through the crowd, he reached the ladder just as Flynn stepped down onto the street. Although he was actually a little bit shorter than Flynn, Karol's broad shoulders and sheer presence made him seem larger than life. A beard framed his face, somewhat disguising the youthful roundness that had never quite faded. He caught Flynn's hand and gave it a firm shake, clapping him gregariously on the shoulder.

“Flynn, it's been forever! You gotta get out of the city more often!”

“That is advice that I would love to put into practice. I'm glad you could make it. Did Nan and the baby come with you?”

Karol's grin lit up even brighter at the question. He had written some months back about the birth of his daughter, but Flynn had yet to meet her.

“Yeah! We decided to come see how you guys celebrate the Festival!” He looked around, back the way he came. “She was with me just a minute ago....”

“There's a lot to see already, more than enough to distract anyone. By the way, will Judith be coming?”

“No.” Karol glanced back long enough to shake his head. “She said she and Ba'ul wanted to light the lanterns in Myorzo this year.”

Festivities in the Krityan city culminated in the release of hundreds of brightly painted paper lanterns that would light up the sky as a trail of drifting, slowly sinking stars. Flynn had gone to see it one year with Yuri. They had camped out on a beach near the floating city's path, and had sat for hours watching the tiny lights wink into existence until they sparkled like gold dust against the overcast heavens. The effect had reminded him of all the purified souls that had been freed upon the defeat of the Adephagos. It had been a breathtaking sight.

Still trying to spot Nan in the crowd, Karol had turned away and actually started back the way he'd come, slowed only by how he kept standing up on his tip toes to get even a slightly better vantage point. “Raven won't be coming, either,” he said over his shoulder.

That didn't come as any surprise. Ever since the very first Festival, Raven had always chosen to spend it in Dahngrest. While not everyone had embraced the celebratory nature of this day of remembrance, some of the ghosts Raven had to contend with were more personal than most. He'd never spoken much about it—not to Flynn, anyway—but maybe passing the Festival in the city where Don Whitehorse's memory was the strongest somehow gave him the strength to look back and still continue on. Although Flynn hadn't gotten a chance to know Don Whitehorse as well as he wished, he believed that, despite the Don being a man not given to dwelling on the past, he would have approved of the Festival of the Dead. It was possible to accept the past, even draw strength from it, without becoming mired in what had been lost.

“Karol, go ahead and look for Nan. I've got a few more things to take care of. If I don't see you before the ceremony, we'll meet up later.”

He turned back to grin and wave. “All right. Thanks! See you!” And then he was off weaving through the crowd.

---------------------------

A couple of hours later, though he hadn't seen Karol again, Flynn ran across Estellise, sitting on the edge of the fountain. She wore a simple green dress, the same color as her eyes, and had let her hair grow out over the years until it fell to her waist. Children were gathered around her as she handed out posies and sugar skulls. The sugar skulls were one of Dahngrest's additions to the holiday, sparkling creations shaped out of sugar. Once the Nordopolican face painting had caught on, people naturally began to decorate the candies with colorful icing. They had become a favorite treat throughout the world.

In addition to giving out sweets, she was also telling stories to any of the children that would stay to listen. Flynn caught her in the middle of the fight against the Master of the Plains, and sat down on the cobbles at her feet to join the small crowd. Immediately, two of the youngest children decided that he would make a better seat than the stones. One crawled into his lap, and he settled the other in the crook of his arm. Once they were comfortable, they mostly ignored him, more interested in Estellise's expressive storytelling.

As he listened, Flynn looked around the square. It had been transformed by color—yellow and turquoise, orange, purple, and magenta, splashes of red and bright green. Bouquets and chains of flowers were everywhere, decorating lampposts and doorways, windows and banisters. A cart sat nearby, selling more to anyone who wasn't done decorating. Another cart held bundles of tall, thin candles in white, ivory, yellow, and black. Vendors walked the milling crowds selling pastries and meat pies, candies, sugar skulls, and fresh fruit. Jugglers and mimes performed on street corners, and even patrolling knights paused to watch their antics.

Amid all the hustle and bustle, Flynn didn't notice Rita approach until she sat down on the edge of the fountain near Estellise. Her hair was close-cropped and singed in places, evidence of her continuing experiments. She wore loose trousers and a short vest, the pockets of which bulged with tools and items that had caught her interest. The two women shared a brief smile, warm with love, and Rita took over handing out the flowers and treats, leaving Estellise to focus entirely on storytelling.

As much as Yuri had always shrugged off any interest in taking credit for the good he did, Flynn still thought he would have liked to hear this story the way Estellise told it. The way she described the battle—miming slashes and lunges, voice near breathless from excitement and danger—it could almost have happened just yesterday. In her story, Yuri was more heroic than reckless, probably the only detail he could have argued about. Flynn found himself drawn in, rooting for his friend and eager to hear how the fight ended, even though it had happened years ago and he'd already heard the story more than once. When Estellise brought the tale to a close, he clapped along with the children before they scattered like birds to rejoin the festivities, released from the story's spell.

Flynn picked himself up and dusted off his simple uniform. He wore no armor today, and carried only a dagger, and that only out of habit born from years spent never going anywhere unarmed. For the ceremony that evening, he would be in full dress uniform, but he still had a little time left for himself before then. Estellise patted the sun-warmed stone at her side, and Flynn sat down next to her. She hugged him sidelong, and he returned the gesture readily.

“It's good to see you again, Flynn. How are you?”

“Keeping busy, as always. And the two of you?” He leaned forward to smile around her at Rita who nodded in greeting.

“Very well, thank you,” Estellise said. “It's been a quiet year.”

“The last few years have seemed quiet, haven't they? How's your book coming?” In her last letter, she had made mention that she was writing an account of Brave Vesperia's growth as a guild and including the stories of some of its most important work. Flynn knew from experience that her storytelling skills would do the guild justice.

“I think I must have interviewed almost everyone who's joined! I knew it had grown, but to talk to all those people...! They have some incredible stories, and everyone talks so highly of Karol.” She covered a giggle with her hand. “I still remember the boy I first met when Yuri and I traveled into the Quoi Woods. He had a sword too big for him to handle, and Yuri broke it. I still don't know if that had been intentional or not.” Her eyes sparkled, laugh lines crinkling at the corners.

“It's hard to believe that there was a time when he had almost given up on the idea. He told me years ago that it was Yuri who inspired him to keep fighting for his dream.”

Estellise nodded. “Karol has a good, strong heart. Yuri saw that in him when he was only a child, but I don't think he could have predicted how much good Karol would do by leading Brave Vesperia.”

“Probably not,” Flynn agreed. “I saw Karol earlier, actually. He ran off to find Nan and the baby.”

“Oh, have you met her? She's so cute!”

Eyeing Estellise, Rita sighed. She switched her stare to Flynn. “Tell her that kids are a lot of work.”

There had been enough old arguments between him and Yuri for Flynn to recognize this as one purely from Rita's tone and the look on Estellise's face as she opened her mouth to reply. Not interested in taking sides, he wisely kept quiet as the women debated the subject. The issue of raising children was one that he and Yuri had always been in agreement on. Although sometimes Flynn thought that it might be nice to have a family, he knew that his career wouldn't leave him enough time to be much of a father.

He listened to the women trading well-worn arguments, and thought that it was likely Estellise would be getting her way soon. Rita did not seem fully convinced of her own position, and Karol's daughter seemed to have made a strong impression on her. Still, they were winding down without a resolution when Flynn spotted Fedrock slipping through the crowd, ears perked forward and tail waving happily.

Fedrock was one of Repede's pups, now full grown and as fine a partner to Flynn as Repede had been to Yuri. He had the same indigo and silver fur, and the same penchant for always carrying an item in his jaws. When he had been younger, he'd carried sticks, pens, even Flynn's toothbrush once when he hadn't been able to find anything more suitable. Ever since Repede's death six years ago, he had carried the pipe. Yuri had given it to him, himself.

Losing Repede had hurt, but Yuri had taken it the hardest. As much as he loved Repede's pups, none of them could have replaced their father in Yuri's heart. Repede had been his partner for almost half Yuri's life, after all. He'd been there to support him through thick and thin, to watch Yuri's back and counteract some of his natural recklessness. In some ways, Yuri had been closer to Repede than to Flynn, even, and he hadn't been the same after Repede's death.

Flynn shook his head to clear away gloomy thoughts. The Festival had put him in mind of the dead, but, over the years, it had come to be a day of celebration as well as remembrance. He didn't want to dwell on loss, but to remember the good times and be thankful they had known each other.

Fedrock trotted over and stopped in front of Flynn. He didn't sit, but lowered his head happily when first Flynn and then Estellise reached out to scratch him between the ears.

“Is it time already?” Flynn asked him.

The dog huffed in response. The sun was dipping low in the sky, and the ceremony was set to begin shortly before sunset. Estellise looked up as well, shading her eyes.

“I hadn't realized how late it was getting. We'd better go up to the palace with you. All of us need to get changed.”

Beside her, Rita heaved a sigh. Estellise shot her a glance, then smiled to herself as she ruffled Fedrock's fur with both hands. “Rita was hoping I would forget entirely,” she said in tones that implied how silly a wish that had been.

“I was hoping to be left out of the spectacle. I know it's important that we not allow the story of what happened to fade into history, but I can't say I'm fond of being stuffed into a gown and stared at.”

“It's only for a little while,” Estellise assured her. “And, for the most part, all you have to do is stand with the other witnesses. I'll be the one giving a speech.”

“You like that sort of thing,” Rita muttered. “It's just more storytelling.” She got to her feet, ready to go with them despite her words.

“Come on,” Estellise said softly, smiling and holding out a hand to her. “It's only once a year. And after all, it is thanks to you that we were able to defeat the Adephagos.”

“Using Yuri's idea,” Rita said. Among those who knew the extent of all Yuri had done for the world, she was always particular about that point.

-----------------

Flynn stood to Ioder's right, trying to keep still despite the sweat that trickled ticklishly down his back beneath his uniform. They stood quietly atop the steps leading into the palace along with Rita, Karol, and a handful of nobles and council members. All except for Ioder held an unlit candle. Before them stood Estellise, her voice magically amplified to carry over the crowd gathered in the courtyard below.

The beginning of her speech had signaled the start of the parades, each led by squadrons of Imperial Knights marching after servants of the Adephagos. The servants were part costume and part puppet, billowing creations of silk over a wooden frame that slipped wraith-like through the streets. Half a dozen of them headed the parades through the widest streets in the city, working their way down toward the Lower Quarter. Flynn could see them even now from his elevated vantage point.

Although the ceremony had begun as the sun touched the horizon and the ruddy light of sunset soaked into the streets, Zaphias was already growing dark. Luckily, twilight had given way to a cloudless night lit by the full moon in her sea of stars. That silvery light bathed the city, and Flynn could see the cool, green glow of the servants as they ran up against the wall of the city, just ahead of the knights that pursued them with sword drills and sparklers that spat pale blue, green, or red flames. Ted was down there, leading the band of knights that were ending their part of the parade at the gate nearest their neighborhood in the Lower Quarter. Flynn smiled to think of him having earned that honor, though it was impossible to pick out individuals from such a distance.

Where the parade had passed, the streets had turned red as people raised silken banners, scarves, and kerchiefs over their heads. From on high, the undulating patches of red and fuchsia did bear passing resemblance to the tentacles of the Adephagos that had stretched across the sky nearly twenty years ago. Watching the color pulsing in the streets like blood through the city's veins, Flynn hoped that the monster that had inspired such a sight would remain nothing more than a memory.

Everyone had heard the story of the Geraios, the Adephagos, and the Children of the Full Moon, but they all listened as Estellise spoke of the events that had nearly brought their world to an end. Once before, that knowledge had passed from history into legend to terrible consequence, but Flynn felt that they wouldn't make the same mistake again. The Festival of the Dead had originally been conceived as a day of remembrance. It had blossomed into a celebration of life and of lives well lived and of memories of departed loved ones, but the victory against the Adephagos remained a central focus of the festivities. Every year, this ceremony was held to commemorate the battle and to fix the story in the minds of the people, ensuring it would be passed down rather than forgotten. Rita, Raven, and the founding members of Brave Vesperia were invited to join the ceremony as honored guests every year, although they did not always choose to participate in Zaphias. Everyone observed the holiday in their own way, but it was especially personal to those who had faced the Adephagos directly.

Estellise was drawing to a close on her storyteller's summary of the history that had led them into a battle for the fate of their very world. As she spoke into the hush of the gathered crowd, telling of the broken seal that had ushered in the Adephagos and its servants, she stepped back into the shadows that encroached upon the palace steps, and allowed Ioder to come forward and take her place.

Although Yuri had been the one who had borne the sword that destroyed the Adephagos, the ceremony had always called upon Ioder in his role as Emperor to symbolically defeat the ancient evil once more. He carried with him a replica of Dein Nomos, the real sword having disappeared with Duke after the battle. The blade was well-made, and shone with an eerie light beneath the stars and the ghostly mage lights that cast their pale, cold glow over the spot where he now stood.

Raising the sword, Ioder invoked the spirits. He called upon the wisdom of all those who had gone before them, gave thanks for the sacrifices made so that the world could continue on, and vowed never to let those sacrifices be forgotten. As he finished, Estellise stepped forward once more, holding her unlit candle. Flynn fell into step behind her, then Rita, Karol, and all the others, one-by-one. As each passed Ioder, they turned to face him, and held their candle to the upraised blade. Magic sparked and lit the wicks, giving life to tiny, warm glimmers of flame as the mage lights faded at Rita's whispered command. Soon, only a dozen candles held by participants to either side of Ioder added illumination to the moonlit scene.

“Let this darkness be purged,” Ioder intoned. “Let life be victorious.”

He leveled his sword at the center of the gathered crowd, and those holding the lit candles walked swiftly forward to meet them. The people in the front let their silken banners fall, offering up unlit candles of their own. They took light from Flynn and the others, and turned to pass on that light to those behind them. A cheer went up as more and more candles were produced, shining like golden stars in the shadowy courtyard. Those lights, like spirits of hope and joy, would spread throughout the city, as rank upon rank of citizens dropped their red silk and lit their candles, dissolving the specter of the Adephagos. When the red had been washed from the streets with a million pinprick lights of joy, the knights that had led the parades would have their victories against the servants in a brief dance of choreographed swordsmanship. The red roads would become rivers of golden light, and candles would be carried from house to house, lighting incense and candles upon the offering tables and signaling the start of the evening's feast.

Flynn slipped away in the confusion. He had taken part in the ceremony year after year, and knew that it would be a few minutes before the way was clear for him to return to the Lower Quarter. In the meantime, he slipped up to his room. Earlier that morning, he had arranged his offering table near the window next to his bed. The fragrance of flowers filled his room, strong enough that the musky smell of the pollen overpowered the sweet scent of the fruits until he was directly in front of the table. He lit the candles and incense, and bowed his head, thinking of his parents, of Captain Niren and other comrades he had lost, of Don Whitehorse and Duke Pantarei. He gave silent thanks for their support and guidance, and he left the candles burning low as he changed into a simple tunic and pants before heading back out into the city.

The streets of Zaphias seethed with life as people celebrated: eating, talking, rushing to and fro. Musicians had set up wherever an intersection afforded them enough room, and people laughed as they danced, colorful skirts flaring out around women's legs as they spun. Faces flashed past, some painted, some masked, many bare. In his unassuming clothing, with his features half-hidden by the flickering light of the million candles that illuminated the Festival, few people spared Flynn even a passing glance. The aromas of roasting meat, spiced vegetables, and fresh bread filled the air, and long tables had been set up for people to help themselves. Although he knew it was there, the sight of the food prompted Flynn to pat the pocket where he'd stashed the roll Ted had given him earlier. He slipped through the crowd unnoticed, eager to reach his destination.

The Comet sparkled with golden flames. Candles had been fixed to the flower-garlanded handrail that led upstairs. Votives, fat pillars, candles in clear glass jars, candles in all shapes and sizes winked from the corners of every step, and petals littered the weathered wood. The door at the top of the stairs was a solid mass of flowers, scattered here and there with bits of ribbon, notes, letters, and trinkets. They shivered but didn't fall loose as Flynn let himself in.

Flynn had taken up making rent payments on the room years ago, thinking that if it was going to be left waiting for Yuri all the time, it at least shouldn't be straining the landlady's budget. Although he didn't visit often anymore, he still hadn't broken the habit of making that payment every month. The room was waiting for him just as he'd left it earlier that afternoon, filled with the fresh scents of flowers and pastries. He would have an hour alone, perhaps two before the others started arriving.

One-by-one, he lit the candles, seeing their flickering points of brilliance reflected in the gleaming blade of the Second Star which lay unsheathed on the offering table. A bottle of wine sat next to it, and Flynn poured two glasses. For just a moment, as he set one down, he thought he saw a familiar figure reflected over his shoulder in the ripples of the wine, and for just a moment, he could almost remember Yuri's grin clearly through the haze that had collected on a years-old memory. Experience had taught him not to turn and look at the empty, long uninhabited room behind him, and time allowed him to master the sudden burn of tears prickling at the corners of his eyes.

Taking a deep, steadying breath, he reached into a pocket and pulled out the roll Ted had given him earlier. He tore the soft bread in half and set one of the pieces down on the offering table. The candle flames shivered in the still air of the dimly lit room, and a sad smile tugged at Flynn's lips.

“Welcome back, Yuri,” he said quietly. Then, because all the happy memories in the world wouldn't change the bitter truth: “I miss you.”



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