“Uncle Tao’rumi is here! Uncle Tao’rumi is here!” Remr’s shouting preceded her into the house by several seconds. As her daughter ran past to fling open the front door, Dia called after her, “What have I told you about running in the house?” And then, under her breath, “Can’t Rumi let me know ahead of time when he’s coming just once? Would a letter be so hard?”
The front door hung wide open as Dia made her way into the front hall. Her brother’s boisterous laugh echoed from the courtyard, along with her youngest daughter’s ecstatic squeals. “Higher, Uncle!” the toddler yelled as he tossed her in the air. “Higher, higher!”
“You’re getting too big, Remr!” Tao’rumi gave a great gasp as he caught her and set her on the ground. “I can barely lift you! Soon you’ll be as tall as Lili!” He winked at his sister as she came down the steps and they embraced with mutual affection – though Dia could not help smacking him with her tail as she scolded, “You could write beforehand, you know!” Tao’rumi flashed her his best older brother smile. “Of course I could, but why would I? The surprise is half the fun!”
“Uncle!” Remr tugged at his pants to regain his attention, but at that same moment her sisters appeared and her voice was lost in the resulting chaos of greetings. She barely managed to wait through the following round of gift giving (though she did love the purple and green crystal Tao’rumi had brought her), and the moment her family began moving inside she clung again to her uncle’s leg. “Uncle, Bao’ru! Bao’ru! You promised!”
“That I did, little one,” Tao’rumi glanced from Remr’s hopeful face to her mother’s suddenly stern expression. “It’s really very safe, Dia. You know I wouldn’t put her in any danger.”
“Oh, fine…” Dia waved her hand in weary acquiescence. “But be quick, the servants will have dinner ready shortly.”
“Bao’ru!” Remr jumped with glee as her uncle pulled a small gold feather token out of his pocket. He grinned and set it ceremoniously in her outstretched hand. “Okay, Remr, do you remember what to do?”
– – –
“I can’t believe you got it!” Remr grinned as Tarcella came climbing down the trellis, the gold feather in her hand just visible in the moonlight. Once on the ground, the halfling bowed with a flourish and a proud, albeit whispered, “I told you, I’m a pickpocketing master.”
“Yeah,” Remr jostled her friend with a gangly adolescent elbow, “because that will be useful in your future career.” Tarcella pushed her back with a mock scowl. “More useful than your dusty old books!” Remr stuck out her tongue. “If you insult my books one more time, I’ll make Bao’ru drop you!”
“Remr, Tarcella, where are you going so late at night?” The girls jumped at the voice, then glanced sheepishly up at the balcony from which Tarcella had just descended. Tao’rumi stared down at them, his arms crossed and a stern frown on his face. Remr faltered, seeking for the lie she hadn’t prepared, then replied uncertainly, “To… uh… stargaze?” Beside her, Tarcella winced. For a few agonizing seconds, Tao’rumi seemed to radiate disappointment. Then the smallest smile tilted his lips and he let out a long sigh. “Stargazing. Mhm. Well. Be back by dawn, all right? Or your mother will worry.” He winked and turned away.
Remr almost shouted, “Thank you, Uncle!” but managed to stop herself before she woke up the rest of the household and only whispered it. She turned to Tarcella with a grin. “Let’s go!”
– – –
“Greetings, companions!” Remr wended her way over to a table in The Moon’s Roost’s far corner where her party sat in various states of relaxation or vigilance. She set down her stack of books with a thud and took a seat on the bench next to Tarcella. “Our patroness was gracious enough to let me borrow a few more texts,” here Never and Tevasshus shared a look that said A few? She has a whole stack upstairs, “and they are utterly fascinating! Listen to this–”
“Madam Nbat’shi, pardon,” The tavern owner interrupted Remr just as she opened the first book, much to her companions’ relief. “Some mail came for you this morning.” He handed her a padded envelope and left. One side of the package was covered with writing and stamps, as if it had traveled to a great many places before finally finding her; the other side had only a single intricate crest in the center. Remr smiled as she tore open one end and pulled out a folded sheet of creamy parchment. “How lovely! My parents write so rarely. I wonder what the occasion is? Perhaps Fal’nua had her baby.” She fell silent as she unfolded and read the letter. Her smile sank.
“Remr, is everything okay?” Never, always the emotional gauge of the group, watched her with concern. She blinked at their words, then managed a weak imitation of her usual smile. “Yeah, no, sorry, everything’s fine.” She reached into the package and pulled out a small gold feather. Never and Tevasshus looked at it in incomprehension, but Tarcella leaned closer as she recognized the token. “Hey,” she said, “that’s–” Remr nodded, blinking rapidly. “Yeah.” Tarcella sat back. “But why would… oh. Sorry.” Remr shrugged awkwardly, closing her hand around the feather, then smiled up at her companions through watery eyes. “Hey, want to see something really cool?”
She lead them out of the tavern, through the winding city streets, then finally out of the city itself. She stopped in the empty grassland beyond and motioned for her companions to stay where they were. “Okay,” she said, winking at Tarcella’s knowing grin, “stand back. Here we go!” She tossed the feather into the air and moved to stand with her party as the gold token flew up, paused at the top of its trajectory, and instead of reversing direction burst apart in a bright, harmless explosion. As the dust settled they saw
a giant blue budgerigar.
“What. The. Fuck,” Never stared up at the colossal bird. Tevasshus’ mouth gaped. Even Tarcella looked in awe, having forgotten over the years just what a sight the budgie was. It was as tall as the city walls and as wide as a noble’s house. It stared down at them with an eye the size of a wagon wheel, then began combing the ground for food with its massive head. Remr hopped in place, gazing up at the beast as tears glittered on her red cheeks.
“His name is Bao-ru!”