Erna gasped in amazement as they arrived at the entrance of Haldis. The vibrant shops were lined up like soldiers, welcoming travelers to this tranquil city. Haldis was a place where people came to unwind and indulge in some peace and quiet. As the sun went down, the town fell silent, with only a few restaurants and bars bustling in the center.
But tonight was different. As if by magic, the entire city was lit up with a kaleidoscope of colors. Glass lanterns were hanging from every house, creating a dazzling display.
Erna was mesmerized. “What’s happening?” she asked.
“It’s the Haldis summer festival,” Kalion replied, gesturing to a poster on the wall of a souvenir shop.
“Only held one day a year, and it just happens to be today,” he added, a mischievous glint in his eyes.
Kalion had bought a traditional costume from the region, intending to surprise Erna. She was none the wiser, lost in the wonder of the festival.
“Why didn’t I know?” Erna lamented.
Kalion chuckled softly. He had purposely kept the festival a secret from her, wanting to see the look of awe on her face.
He checked the rings on their hands, grateful for Erna’s spell that had allowed them to blend in with the crowd. They could enjoy the festival unseen and unheard, wandering the streets of Haldis.
Kalion extended his hand to Erna. “Let’s grab some dinner,” he said.
The two of them headed to the largest store in Haldis, which boasted a wide terrace seat. The place was packed, but luckily, they were able to snag a seat on the second floor with a stunning view. The extra fee was worth it.
Erna perused the menu and gazed longingly at the dishes ordered by the patrons sitting next to her. She couldn’t decide what to order, her face scrunching in confusion.
“What’s the matter?” Kalion asked.
“This looks delicious, that looks delicious too…” Erna mumbled.
Kalion smiled knowingly, taking her menu and flagging down the waiter.
“Please bring us a little bit of everything,” he said, his eyes glinting mischievously. “And two local beers, please.”
The waiter looked at him incredulously, as if he couldn’t believe his luck, and quickly scurried off.
Erna’s eyes widened in surprise as she turned to face Kalion after they placed their order. “Why are you looking at me like that?” he asked, curious. She hesitated for a moment before muttering, “Out of all the times I’ve seen you, you look the most handsome right now.” Kalion felt his cheeks flush, feeling a little bashful under her gaze.
Just then, several waiters arrived at their table, their arms laden with plates of food. They placed the dishes on the table with a practiced ease. “Don’t worry, we can pack up any leftovers for you!” one of the waiters assured them. The last waiter placed two cold beers in front of the couple, grinning.
The surrounding diners stared at them in disbelief as they began to eat. “It would be a hassle to carry,” Erna murmured.
“Don’t worry, there won’t be any left,” Kalion replied confidently. He handed her a drumstick from the roasted whole chicken, then started devouring the rest of the meal with gusto. They moved on to sausages, fried potatoes, and other dishes, washing it all down with cool beer. The satisfied expressions on their faces drew curious glances from those around them, but they paid them no mind, lost in their own culinary world.
“You’re really good at eating….”
Erna couldn’t help but stare as Kalion devoured the drumstick with expertise. She had seen the knights at the Grand Castle consume their meals at an alarming speed, but witnessing it again left her in awe.
“It’s all thanks to you,” Kalion remarked, sensing Erna’s gaze on him.
“Why me?” Erna asked, confused.
“Why do you think?” Kalion replied, giving her a look that implied the answer was obvious. He owed everything he could eat and drink to her.
Erna caught Kalion’s eye and smirked, rubbing her chin. She then watched him tuck into the rest of the food heartily. Her pride at seeing him enjoy the meal was palpable, yet she couldn’t quite explain why.
* * *
As Erna stepped out of the restaurant, she was met with warm greetings from the staff, bidding her farewell and good luck on her stay in Haldis. Kalion trailed behind her, his belly full from the scrumptious meal they just enjoyed, his eyes twinkling with excitement.
“Shall we indulge in the festival, my dear?” He clasped her hand with his, leading her towards the heart of the bustling town.
The festival was a one-day affair, and the shopkeepers had taken full advantage of the opportunity to illuminate their shops in a dazzling array of colors, hoping to rake in hefty profits. Street vendors had also flocked to the town, bellowing out their wares in a bid to attract customers.
“Do you know what this reminds me of?” Kalion asked, his gaze transfixed on the lively crowd before them. Erna shook her head, curious about what memory had surfaced in his mind.
“Just something…” Kalion mumbled, his eyes brimming with nostalgia.
Erna couldn’t help but smile at the sight of his wistful expression, watching as he drank in the sights and sounds of the festival with unabashed glee.
Erna gazed down at the necklace draped around her neck, the only piece of jewelry she consistently wore despite the plethora of opulent adornments that had been presented to her at the Grand Castle. It was a modest piece, bearing her initials and crafted in a quaint village she had visited while searching for Chenille Regis.
Erna recalled the confusion and turmoil that had beset Chenille when she had been under the spell of her mind manipulation magic, forced to operate as a marionette under her command while concealed as a black hound beneath Vanessa. But after Erna had broken the enchantment and dealt with the repercussions, Chenille had silently expressed her gratitude and they had both gone their separate ways.
Erna tugged at Kalion’s arm, her eyes lighting up at the sight of the glittering jewels being sold by the merchants. “Come on, let’s take a look,” she exclaimed, pulling him towards the bevy of stalls. The air was filled with the sound of clinking trinkets and the chatter of shoppers as they perused the assortment of hair accessories, earrings, necklaces, rings, and bracelets.
As they wandered through the crowd, Erna spotted an empty corner with a stall that looked different from the rest. Curiosity piqued, she tugged Kalion towards the curious space. They were met with plain, dull-colored rings that were a far cry from the flashy pieces sold by the other vendors.
Erna’s eyes fell on the price tag, her brows furrowing at the exorbitant cost of a ring that lacked any glimmer or shine. Nonetheless, she approached the vendor, driven by her curiosity to know more.
“Why is this ring so expensive?” she inquired, her gaze fixed on the plain band.
The owner of the stall beamed, his voice carrying the unmistakable pride of a craftsman. “It’s worth it, I assure you. It’s not made of gold, silver, or copper. It’s made of a newly artificially created mineral called Ternium, created in the Mage Tower.”
Erna’s interest was piqued, and she leaned in closer, listening intently to the vendor’s explanation. “I am going around selling jewelry made from this valuable mineral at a reasonable price to let people know about its charm. Of course, we also provide initial engraving services. It’s hard to scratch even with normal equipment, but I use a specially made tool to engrave it.”
Erna narrowed her eyes at the merchant, a sense of suspicion creeping over her. It was hard to fathom why someone from the Mage Tower would venture all the way out here to sell minerals – minerals she had never heard of before. Her curiosity piqued, she decided to take a closer look.
Bending down, she picked up the unattractive ring that the merchant was peddling. A shiver ran through her as she touched it, feeling an inexplicable cool sensation that was unlike anything she had ever experienced before.