“You seriously don’t have the Festival of Ghosts up in your homeland?” Thundar asked as they made their way along one of the paths through the botanical gardens. They passed a series of beehives set away from the path that were being tended by wizards wrapped in visible force protection. “Seriously, you never heard of it?”
“Thundar, for the last time no, I haven’t heard of it!” Alex said. “We have Sigmus, the Harvest Festival, Uldar’s Rise, The Heroes’ Festival, the Spring Festival and…well some other festivals, but we don’t have a ‘Festival of Ghosts’ and I’ll never know what it is if you keep asking how come we don’t have one in Thameland without bloody well telling me what it is.”
“Fine,” Thundar grunted. “We have it in my homeland, and they have it here in Generasi…but we make our wreaths out of pumpkin leaves instead of grape leaves. So basically, it goes like this.”
He brought his hands up and wiggled his fingers in a spooky gesture. “Every year, The Festival of Ghosts is a two-day celebration of the dead. We give thanks to our ancestors who have passed, and all the people that came before us.”
“Huh, that sounds pretty religious,” Alex said. “I’m surprised it’s allowed on campus.”
“Ain’t no gods involved,” Thundar said. “There’s just living mortals honouring mortals who’ve passed on. It’s about respect, that’s all.”
“Okay, so I see why it’s called ghosts. What’s with the wreathes, then?”
“Protection,” Thundar said. “The old legends say that when a bunch of people all call to the dead at the same time—even just honouring them—it calls to all spirits, including bitter ones, selfish ones or ones that want revenge. So, we make wreaths out of the harvest as a symbol of life to ward away the ones that mean us harm.”
“Oh, that’s cool,” Alex said. “But why do the wreaths surround monsters?”
Thundar smiled darkly. “To scare ‘em. There’s an old story about a farmer who honoured his dead father during a Festival of Ghosts, but his words not only reached his father, but his uncle too, who was wandering the world as a ghost. The uncle’s ghost came to the farmer’s land and terrorized his family, drained the life from his cows, and scattered his sheep.”
The minotaur tapped the side of his thick skull. “So, the farmer got tired of it and remembered how his uncle had died: killed by a troll while stealing his father’s pumpkins one night. So, the farmer made a troll costume out of old leather, he used bones for the teeth, and rotten tomatoes for the eyes. When the ghost came along, the farmer leaped out and it scared his dead uncle so badly that he died all over again.”
Thundar bared his teeth in a vicious grin. “So, ever since, whenever people celebrate the Festival of Ghosts, they make masks and costumes of frightening monsters to scare away bad ghosts. Make sense?”
“No, but it sounds pretty fun,” Alex said. “I can kinda see why it’s not in Thameland: monsters swarming from The Ravener is kind of a horrible kingdom ending thing, for the most part.”
He could imagine someone in Thameland wanting to dress up like a dragon or a cerberus, but a silence-spider? Not so much.
“So, you talked about a meal, is there a feast?” Alex said. “Like you know…a feastival?”
Thundar groaned. “You’re out of the cabal.”
“You're not the leader, you can’t kick me out.”
“Make me the leader so I can kick you out.”
“Oh okay-no, why would I do that?”
“Damn.” Thundar swore. “Anyway, bad jokes aside. There’s lots of food, drinks and desserts. We eat in life for those in death, leaving an open seat at the table for our loved ones.”
Alex thought about it, imagining dressing up for the festival…or maybe letting Selina dress up for it and inviting his friends over for food and to honour the dead. Including his parents.
It actually sounded pretty nice.
“Ooooh, I’m going to cook up the feast to end all feasts,” Alex said, rubbing his hands together.
“And I’ll be there to eat the feast to end all feasts.”
The young wizard stared up at the minotaur. “…can you cook?”
Thundar snorted. “Of course I can cook, what do I look like, a helpless calf?” He paused, his eyes going wide even as an evil grin widened on Alex’s face. “Uh, I mean no-”
Alex’s hand rose to clap the minotaur on the shoulder. "Oooooh it’s much too late. Welcome to the Roth Kitchen helpers! I pay in food.”
Thundar groaned, then paused. His bovine ears twitched on the side of his head. “Wait…did you hear something?”
Alex paused, listening to the sounds of the botanical garden. He could hear the rustle of people working in the greenery, as well as the sound of students walking the paths of the gardens and speaking in low voices. He might have heard the sound of small animals-
Alex paused, cocking his ear toward the sound.
There it was again.
“You hear that?” Thundar asked.
“Yeah…sounds like some kind of small animal,” Alex said.
“Yeah…or an imp,” Thundar said darkly.
Alex double-took at him. “What, you think so?” he cocked his head toward the trees. The young wizard closed his eyes, concentrating his senses on his hearing.
He didn’t hear the beat of leathery wings: a sound the imps made when he’d fought them.
“I don’t hear their wings,” Alex said. “Do you smell anything weird?”
“…no,” Thundar said. “It sounded creepy, but maybe you’re right. Maybe it was just an animal.”
For a moment, Alex imagined all kinds of possibilities: demons, monsters from The Ravener, or even the mana vampire that was stalking the city. He eyed the gardens suspiciously, but nothing strange happened.
Looking at each other and exchanging shrugs, the two student wizards made their way toward the gardens’ exit.
As it turned out, the festival was in a week and Alex was extremely glad that he’d found out about it when he had. It seemed like a number of businesses would be closed on the festival days, but his shifts at Shale’s Workshop hadn’t fallen on those days.
His work with golems was incredibly interesting. For the most part, his job was to prepare ingredients and organize them for the construction of golem cores, as well as to assist Lagor in the body sculpting process.
Both his hours sculpting with Selina, and his work in Jules’ class had really paid off for his new job: he found he was able to slide into both roles feeling well prepared. His sculpting skills had grown since he’d started at the workshop. Before working with Selina, the only thing he could make was well…a mess, but now, he was able to carefully craft some fairly decent looking sculptures of beasts, buildings and people.
Selina had also grown as well by practising and using her own natural talent. He’d never noticed how naturally dextrous she was until he’d worked with her so closely, which made him wonder if his little sister might take an interest in alchemy when she got older.
For the time being, though, what she was interested in was The Festival of Ghosts.
“I get to dress up like a cool monster?” she nearly screamed in excitement as Alex explained it to her and Theresa over breakfast during the weekend. “Andwe get to do something nice for mother and father?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool, isn’t it?” Alex said.
“Hmmmm.” Theresa playfully tapped her chin as she watched the excited little girl. “What kind of monster would you dress up as, if you could choose any monster?”
“I’d like to be Brutus!” Selina shouted happily.
With a grunt, Brutus startled awake at his name being called from the opposite end of the room: all three heads swivelled, looking around with sleepy eyes.
“That might be kind of hard, what with all those heads,” Alex said. “We might be able to make you a mask that makes you look like a troll or something.”
“Cool, being a troll sounds cool too!” Selina said.
Alex burst out laughing. Great, his sister wanted to be a troll. Maybe she wouldn’t have minded ‘Operation Giant Selina’ after all.
He shook his head.
‘Why do I keep thinking about that?’ he thought. ‘I really needed to work out some of my issues.’
“So,” Alex said. “I don’t think we actually have all the right materials to make you a really cool looking troll mask, not in a week, but Thundar said there’re stores in town that’ll be selling masks. We could buy you one to wear? Would you like that?”
“Yeah!” she said.
“Good, now…this festival is celebrating the dead: which means that we eat for our lost loved ones. I’m going to make food that our parents would like, which means mother’s cookies. What about you, Selina, what do you think they would like?”
Selina frowned for a long moment, and for an instant, Alex thought he’d pushed too hard by bringing up their parents and the food they would like so soon after her ordeal with fire.
“Ummmm.” She frowned. “Dad used to make that stew, for Sigmus. It had…” She paused, looking up to Alex. “What did it have in it?”
The moment she brought it up, the old flavour instantly came back to him. He could almost taste it. “A lot of things, but let me see. I think he put in lots of potatoes, some nuts, different herbs, venison and, beef, some bottles of ale and lots and lots of cheese. Wow…I remember that now. That stew used to be sooo good. I’m glad you thought of it little goblin.”
The thing was that Alex didn’t have the exact recipe for his father’s Sigmus stew—not the exact proportions for all the ingredients—but he’d helped him in the kitchen when he made it, so he could use The Mark to experiment and guide him to get them right.
It was good that Selina brought that up: he and his father used to take threedays making that stew. He’d need to start it early, especially since this would be the first time he’d be making it by himself.
“Alright, I can start that soon,” Alex said.
“Can…” Selina said suddenly. “Can I help you make it?”
Alex paused. She’d never shown any interest in the kitchen before. It was to the point where he’d wondered if she’d grow up to be one of those folks who just boiled gruel for supper every night because it was quick and easy.
“Are…you sure that’s okay?” Alex said gently. “There’s fire in the kitchen, you know.”
Selina nodded. “I…I know. Maybe I can do something else?”
“Well, there’s plenty of other things. You can wash vegetables, get things from the pantry, get spoons and pots…if that’s okay?”
“Yeah.” She brightened. “I…I want mother and father to eat something that I helped make.”
Alex froze, and he felt a lump swell in his throat.
‘Alright, don’t start crying in front of your sister. Come on,’ he thought. ‘Hold it together, hold it together. Don’t look at her, look at Theresa, she’s hardened, she’ll-’
Alex glanced over to the brave huntress, to find the young woman turned away with tears clearly shining in her eyes.
He swallowed. “Well, little goblin, I’m sure they’ll love that. Anything you want made, Theresa?”
She nodded. “Grandfather loved fried fish.”
Alex straightened. “Then I’ll be frying up all the fish we could ever eat, and that he could ever eat.”
“Thank you, Alex.” Her face softened. “And I’ll help make it too.”
“Then it’ll be a family affair.” He glanced at their three-headed friend. “Except for Brutus, I guess.”
One of the cerberus’ heads snorted in annoyance: the big dog had almost been back to sleep when he’d heard his name again.
“Thundar agreed to help too,” Alex said, leaving out the part where he’d basically press ganged him into it. “So, we’ll have lots of hands.”
He frowned. “Only thing is that the kitchen is going to be busy. But we’ll work it out. It’s our first festival in Generasi, after all.”
A large smile took Alex Roth’s face.
“Let’s make it one to remember!”