The festival filled the air with song and laughter, bright colors as people danced and twirled, the tantalizing aromas of so many foods and drink, and an almost electric energy of delight and excitement. It was the perfect evening for a festival, the sky clear and the air warm even as the sun sank lower towards the horizon. Everything was perfect. Exactly as it should be.
Kali's dark blue eyes sparkled, dancing playfully through the eye holes of the fox mask she wore to hide most of her features. Only her chin and her soft, black painted lips were easily visible below the curve of the vulpine snout. Lips that sported a devilish smile as she danced through the crowds.
Strong hands caught her around the waist and she shrieked gleefully as she was spun into the air. As her feet found the ground once more, she turned and flung her arms around the much larger man's neck.
"Gabriel! You could have scared me half to death!" she laughed as his strong arms returned her embrace.
"No I couldn't... You're having far too much fun, and I doubt you would have reacted any differently if it had been someone other than me who picked you up."
She flashed him a wicked smile as they released each other. "Who knows," she teased. "Maybe I would have liked it even more."
He opened his mouth to reply, but his attention was diverted as a man who seemed like he might be enjoying his festival beverages a little too much slammed into him. Kali's expression softened as she saw the spasm of disgust and discomfort pass across Gabriel's face, the drunken man barely even muttering an apology as he hurried after some young skirt to chase.
Reaching up, she stroked Gabriel's cheek. "Go on... I'm going to dance a bit longer."
"No," he said gruffly, putting his hand over hers and pulling it from his face. He gave her a weak smile and her hand a light squeeze before he released it.
"You don't have to force yourself to mingle with the crowds. I know that even though you've grown more accustomed to other people, that you don't have fun at these festivals."
He was silent for a moment as he caught the eye of a young nobleman who was giving Kali a greedy sort of once over. The man, who became very uninterested and more than a little terrified looking, scurried away as though he suddenly realized he had forgotten something important that he had to handle. Snorting indignantly, Gabriel turned his gaze back down to Kali, who was grinning devilishly again, her eyebrows raised beneath her fox mask.
"I may not enjoy festivals, Kali.... But it is necessary that I accompany you in order to make certain that you do not enjoy yourself rather too much in my absence."
At this, the woman laughed more jovially than ever. She wrapped her arms around his neck again and drew his face down to hers. After giving him a quick kiss-- leaving just the faintest traces of her dark lipstick upon his lips-- she winked at him and moved out into the crowd again. He couldn't help but grin as he watched her return to her dancing. He hardly even noticed as a small clump of people jostled past him in the crowded field between the city and the noble's manor.
For a while, Kali watched him out of the corner of her eyes as best she could as she danced. However it wasn't long before she was drawn fully into the excitement of the night once more. She so loved to dance, and even more so was her love of festival clothing and the ability to be anyone you wanted when hiding behind a mask. She laughed and joked with the others who were enjoying the festival, sometimes taking on a different accent whenever she found a new someone interesting enough to speak with.
The sky grew even darker, the sun gone completely and stars sprinkling the blackness that remained. Kali paused, suddenly, and turned her gaze up towards the sky. She shuddered, glancing around and wondering if anyone else noticed... Felt the strangeness that had suddenly filled her with an inexplicable dread. Slowly, she returned her gaze upwards. Towards the star filled sky.
Towards where the moon should have full and bright...but wasn't.
Feeling a panic she couldn't quite understand, she quickly searched the crowds for Gabriel. Moving silently, she couldn't help but wonder at the fact that there seemed to be less people here than there had been... These festivals always went well into the night. It was too early for people to be filtering home yet.
Spotting one of the soldiers she knew had worked with Gabriel, she quickly moved over to him and asked if he knew where the man had gone.
"Gabriel...? That someone from the village?"
Kali stared at him, her grace gone as her mouth gaped open. She grabbed him by the collar and pulled him down so the fox snout of her mask was tip to tip with his nose. "You've worked with him several times in the past! A warrior. One of the best in these lands. Brought in by your commander because the old coot saw potential in him and didn't want him to rise to the same bad means as the rest of his family."
The soldier laughed somewhat uncomfortably as he took hold of Kali's wrists and pulled himself free of her grip. "R-right, lady... Look, I don't think I know this man you're talking about. Maybe you should cut down on the ale and go sleep it off now, eh?"
Kali stared at him a moment longer before turning and sweeping her gaze across the crowd... Which seemed to have grown even thinner. She swallowed, trying not to think the worst. Maybe she had drank a bit too much. It was a possibility. Moving through the dancing, laughing crowd in a daze, she tried to think of where he might have gone. Back to his rooms in the manor perhaps.
Wait... What rooms?
She frowned, turning her gaze up towards the starlit sky. Something was missing there... Without thinking, her hand moved to the crescent moon pendant that hung around her neck. Then, more quickly, to the mark on the side of her neck that had once been a perfect crescent before the scars had misshaped it slightly. The moon. How could she have almost forgotten the moon?
Turning, she ran as quickly as she could through the crowd, pushing people aside as she went and ignoring their enraged cries. She had to get to the manor. She had to find... his... who is he again? Someone important. Very important. What was his name!?
As she drew closer to the manor, she froze in her tracks. Slowly, her eyes slipped from the door of the manor, still some distance away, that had been her goal. Her eyes swept across the lawn and eventually came to rest upon the stranger who was perched thoughtfully upon the low stone wall the marked the outermost reaches of the lord's land.
For a long moment, she simply stood and stared. This strange man of dark skin and dark hair all in dreadlocks, who simply perched there. One leg dangling over the edge of the wall while the other foot-- bare feet, she realized in surprise-- rested upon the top of the wall so that his arms could fold across that knee. His chin was resting upon his arms as he gazed out towards the festival with eyes of intense green.
Something about him did not fit... and yet fit perfectly. But before she could speak, he had sighed and shifted his eyes towards her. Only his gaze moving at first before he straightened his back and regarded her more closely.
"Who..." Kali began, but her voice failed her and she simply stepped closer to him.
Mudd regarded her for a moment before sighing sadly once more and turning his attention out over the festivities. She followed his gaze and her stomach clinched at how small the celebration seemed. So devoid of the people whom she felt should have been there.
"You're special," came a voice that shocked her into looking back at the man. "Very special.... Aren't you? You can sense that something has gone awry."
She shivered, hugging her bare arms around herself. "Things are missing..."
"Your world is unraveling," came the man's reply, his deep voice filled with sadness. "Just like so many others, it is falling apart around you. And yet you, yourself, remain yourself. You've noticed that something is wrong."
Goosebumps were raising on Kali's arms and she found it somewhat difficult to meet the man's gaze. At least, until a sudden smile crossed his lips, which startled her into staring openly once more.
"That's good, though," Mudd said as he stood and moved towards her. "That strong sense of self is what we need. Your determination and emotion. I think you could help fix The Book."
"The... Book?" Kali repeated, feeling like maybe she wasn't the one who'd had too much to drink. "I don't know what you're talking about. Who are you?"
"Of course, of course... Unfortunately, there is not time for lengthy explanation. For now, you may simply call me Mudd. I am a keeper of The Book of Stories that holds every story and world every imagined. Which, by the way, includes your own tale."
Kali hugged her arms more tightly around herself and turns her gaze up towards the empty place in the sky where the moon should have been. "And... these worlds are unraveling? What will happen..." but she realized that she wasn't the one she wanted to ask about, so she asked instead, "What happened to Gabriel?" The name almost sounds foreign as she utters it, but she knows that she must hold onto it. "And the moon? If things are disappearing, they have to go somewhere, right?"
She did not like the silence that followed anymore than she liked the fact that Mudd diverted his gaze from hers. "They can't just be gone!"
He blinked and looked at her, seeming somewhat startled. Then a wide grin spread across his lips once more. "I think I was right about you. Would you like a chance to save them? To undo the damage to your story and to many other worlds as well?"
Kali hesitated for less than a second before dropping her arms to her side, standing up straighter and giving a single resolute nod. Mudd smiled and raised his hand, but Kali quickly cut in before he could do or say anything else. "But I'll need some things." She wasn't sure if he planned to simply teleport her away to wherever, but given that she was dressed for the festival and had nothing of use upon her person, she did not wish to be sent away into other worlds completely unprepared.
Mudd seemed startled again. "Well, I intended to-"
"One should never leave for an adventure without being prepared for anything. I have many things that I'll need to retrieve from my rooms."
"I don't know if there is time for you to pack," Mudd said uncertainly as he glanced upwards where the stars were beginning to wink out one by one.
"I never said anything about packing," Kali laughed as she motioned for him to take her hand. "I'm a wanderer by nature. Much as the moon traverses the sky without resting. I keep everything in my pack in case the urge or need to move on quickly should arise."
Mudd nodded as he took her hand. A couple moments, some words of power, and a rush of magical energy later, the two of them were standing in the room above her favorite tavern. The furniture was simple and looked barely used, which it was. For the tavern's owner had made a deal with her to always keep it empty for her, in exchange for her paying rather a bit more than the usual going rate whenever she was in town. Which was increasingly more often since she had met Gabriel.
Kali retrieved her simple pack, strapped closed and looking not particularly full, and turned to face Mudd. Seeing the man's questioning expression, she just shrugged. "It's enchanted, of course... There's more in here than you could probably think to name."
Mudd couldn't help but grin at that, even as she pulled off the fox mask and slipped it easily into the pack without making it look any fuller. She was a woman after his own heart it seemed. Ever changing and constantly moving. The perfect champion, he hoped, to help stop whatever was destroying the worlds connected by The Book.
"Very well, I am ready for a quest now," Kali said brightly as she shouldered her pack and turned back to him. "So.... Where am I going?"
The man laughed at that and moved to a corner where he picked up a broom. "First, I wish to bestow a gift upon you."
Kali quirked an eyebrow at him. "Okay, so you're going to give me a broom?"
He chuckled and shook his head as he held the broom out so that it was parallel to the floor, resting easily across the palms of his hands. "No. I'm going to give your broom a Function. There's little time left, so just watch and then you will need to be on your way."
She nodded, looking somewhat skeptical even as he turned his focus to the broom in his hands. As she watched, the shaft grew smoother and the grain of the wood seemed to swirl into a pattern like clouds... or wind... The ratty, uneven bristles grew fine and delicate, almost like wispy feathers. She frowned as he handed her the broom and shook her head.
"I don't understand. Wha-"
"There's no time," Mudd cut in as he gestured to a blank wall. Only it wasn't a blank wall any longer. She stared at the door-- her hands working absently to store the broom into her enchanted pack-- as he gave her what little explanation he planned to give her. "This item now has the Function of flight. How you use it will be left to you. Now, this door will lead into the other worlds that are held within The Book of Stories. My sister and I are unable to locate the book's actual whereabouts, but we can still access the worlds even if we can't enter them ourselves."
Kali strapped her pack shut even as the broom disappeared into it and took the couple of steps to the door. "I still don't understand what I'm supposed to do," she said as her hand rested on the doorknob."
"I'm sorry, but there isn't time."
Kali didn't even realize she was turning the handle as she turned to glance back at Mudd. Seeing him standing directly beside her, however, she let out a startled cry and stepped back away from him... Right through the gaping doorway.
Darkness enveloped her and her voice could not be heard as she screamed into it. Moments later, all was silent and she was aware of nothing.