Luckily for Ai she was recovered within four days after fainant on the stairs. The relief was palpable in the air and shown on everyone's faces. Some of her patients had even wished her well. Now that she was better people focused on the Spring Festival that would take place in two days. Kosuke was the only one confused by what was going on since he was from a different town. Shin was badgering Ai to share the last dance with him which she politely refused. Lin was doing last minute preparations for the dance competition, and Ni-Su was shadowing Ai's every step.
Everyone that didn't look human was purchasing pendants that would hide their true selves, so they could go to the festival. It was chaos. Jun and a few others planned to stay behind and take shifts watching over the patients so Ai could go. Ai felt slightly guilty about it since she wanted them to have fun but they insisted she go. Finally the Spring Festival arrived along with all the excitement. "Do you want any souvenirs?" Ai asked politely.
"If you find something that you think I'd like I wouldn't turn it down," Jun replied.
"Alright, I'll see if I can find something," Ai agreed. June knew Ai would look relentlessly for a gift even though she didn't ask for one. She found it best to just go along with it instead of arguing needlessly wit Ai.
The Spring Festival was a two day event so everyone would be able to get a chance to go. Some events were only present on certain days though. The dance competition Lin entered being one of them. Guards were posted everyone as a request by the mayor. Among the guards were several hunters, wanting to capture any creatures. Despite this many nonhumans came to the festival every year. Stalls lined the roads filled with merchandise, food, or games. All of them tried to draw in a large crowd. In the center of town a fire would represent the melting of the snow and rising of life.
Everyone in town that came dressed up in bright colors and jewels. Ai wore more earth tones. She had a green top with a tan skirt that had a leaf design near the bottom. Lin had on her dance outfit consisting of cherry red with orange shimmery cloth like flames and gold jewels. Ni-Su wore a light green frilly dress and a dark green bow around her waist. Kosuke wore his normal attire with a black tie added and his eyes appeared brown to make him look more human. Shin wore a green button up shirt with tan dress pants. All of them headed to the festival together. They planned to split up after Lin's performance that would take place after one o'clock. "What should we do first?" Ai inquired.
Everyone blinked at each other's suggestions. Ni-Su had been the first to make a suggestion thinking it would be fun to play something to pass the time. Shin had recommended food, which Lin who was about to compete was against. She had proposed art, whether they look at some pieces or created it she didn't care. Kosuke who hadn't been to the festival before was hoping to sight-see. Before an argument could brew Ai stepped in.
"How about we sight-see first and if you see some interesting art or games we'll stop to do them. Then in about an hour we'll go get a light snack before seeing Lin's performance."
"Okay," everyone conceded.
Ni-Su climbed up onto Ai's shoulders in order to get a better view of the festival. Walking around a bit was relaxing and gave them an opportunity to take everything in. They first stopped to admire some art pieces that were on display. Lin couldn't take her eyes off of a painting of a waterfall that had the clearest water she had ever seen. Around the waterfall were enormous oak trees. When she checked the price she was disappointed when she realized she couldn't afford it. Kosuke saw Ai staring at it and when they went to leave he noticed she paid the man behind the stall while saying a few words and pointing towards the painting.
When Ai came back to the group he didn't say anything so as not to ruin the surprise for Lin. Ni-Su soon pointed out a game where you had to knock over six milk bottles. The prizes varied from dolls to crafts and a few different kinds of candy. Ai smiled at Ni-Su whose eyes were starin doll with brunette hair and a yellow dress. Ai stepped forward and asked if she could play. The stall gave her three balls and told her she would only get the three tries. On her first throw she missed the target completely and the second throw was not much better. It managed to knock down one bottle at the top. Her last throw took out the middle two. "So what kind of prize do you want? Pick anything off the middle shelf or lower.
Ai noticed the doll was on the top shelf so she declined anything. She asked for another round with Ni-Su cheering her on the whole way. Her luck was much better this time around. It took all three balls but she was able to knock down all the bottles. When asked what she wanted she pointed to the doll on the top shelf. "I would like that one," she replied.
"Anything for the young miss," the man told her as he went to retrieve the doll. Shin stood close by after that and glared at the man slightly. Ai sighed at his behavior before accepting the doll and handing it to Ni-Su.
"Here you are," Ai said smiling fondly.
"Thank you!" Ni-Su exclaimed happily.
"You don't need to thank me."
"We should probably get something to eat soon since I have to arrive at the tent early," Lin remarked. She had been at the craft stall nearby while Ai was playing.
"How about something light since you'll be dancing soon afterwards," Ai suggested.
"That would probably be best…I was thinking of not eating anything but I should have something," Lin agreed.
"Anything's fine with me as long as we get something to eat now!" Shin inserted happily. He may not have needed to eat to live but Shin liked the tastes of the different foods.
"How about some soup in a bread bowl?" Ni-Su suggested.
"Well it's not exactly light but it does sound good," Lin commented.
"I saw a stall for it about a block away," Kosuke informed them.
"I'll pay for our bowls then," Ai stated. No one bothered to argue since they knew she wouldn't budge on her decision. Each of them got a different kind of soup allowing the others to have a bite of theirs. AI picked out chicken noodle while Ni-Su bought tomato. Shin ordered beef stew and Kosuke ordered a bowl of mushroom stew. They were happier with their own choices for the most part. Ni-Su couldn't finish hers though so Shin ate the rest for her.
They chatted a bit about what they wanted to see and everything they should get. Lin wanted to see some of the dresses that were in style after her show, Ni-Su wanted to play at the park, and Shin wanted to get some caramel apples before joining the fighting competition. Ai and Kosuke didn't have anywhere in particular they wanted to go but they did comment every now and then about the merits of each place. Suddenly Lin jumped from the table.
"I better go now before I'm late! I still need to check it and do last minute changes."
"Good luck! I can't wait to see your performance," Ai told her.
"Thanks!" Lin said as she ran off.
"We have time for one more thing before we go see Lin's performance. Any ideas?" Ai inquired.
"How about we try to win a goldfish?" Ni-Su suggested.
"We'd have to carry it around all day then," Shin pointed out. "How about we test our strength?"
"I don't think that's a good idea…" Ai told him.
"Can check out those metal works?" Kosuke asked pointing to a stand that had dragon statues, daggers, and necklaces.
"That sounds good," Ai agreed. Shin shrugged his shoulders but didn't argue.
Ai was fascinated by the intricate, detailed designs of some of the dragons. She decided to buy a bracelet that looked like a dragon wrapping around your arm for Jun. It was in Jun's normal tastes so she thought it would go over well. She then decided to get a black and red bangle for herself. Ni-Su wasn't interested in anything so she wondered off without the other's realizing. Shin was interested in the daggers and silver rings the stall displayed. He bought one of the rings that grabbed his attention and pocketed it for later. When Shin wasn't looking Ai decided to buy one of the daggers that held an emerald on the handle. Kosuke looked through everything before buying a jewel encrusted mirror and a black ring.
"That was a good choice," Ai complimented. "It'll match almost all of clothes and jewelry."
"Thanks…" Kosuke said smiling faintly. Over the last month he had become a bit more social. He still hadn't told anyone why he was there or his circumstances but he began to do small talk.
"What about you Shin…" Ai trailed off noticing Ni-Su wasn't there anymore. "Did either of you two see where Ni-Su went?" She asked panicking slightly.
"No…maybe she went to the park?" Shin suggested.
That was all Ai needed to hear as she took off leaving the guys behind. She started calling out Ni-Su's name as loudly as she could. "Where could she be?" Ai muttered to herself. A flash of green hair caused her to turn to see Ni-Su talking to a girl with blue hair that went to her mid back and a white frilly dress. "Ni-Su!" Ai called out. Ni-Su turned to see Ai jogging towards her. She was happy until she saw how worried Ai looked. She became guilty as she realized she was the reason.
"Hi…" Ni-Su replied subdued.
"I was looking all over for you. You should have told me you wanted to come here," Ai scolded lightly. Kneeling down, she gave Ni-Su a tight hug. "I was so worried about you."
"I'm alright though…"
"I know that now…"
The girl who Ni-Su had been talking to shifted. "Are you Ni-Su's mom?" she inquired.
"Yes," Ai responded with conviction. "Nice to meet you." Ni-Su's heart swelled as Ai claimed her as a daughter. It was one of her favorite dreams come true. After that she felt guiltier for making Ai worry so much about her. "Ni-Su, why don't you introduce me to your new friend."
"Mom this is Uru! She lives two blocks away from us. Uru this is my mom. The one I've been telling you about," Ni-Su introduced. Ai pondered for a minute as Uru began whispering in Ni-Su's ear.
"Uru would you like to go see the dance competition with us? One of the residents at my place will be in it and we promised we would watch her perform," Ai explained.
"Really? I wanted to go see that but I don't have the money…and I came by myself so I can't ask my guardians…" Uru replied.
"Don't worry I'll pay for your ticket," Ai assured.
"We better go then since it'll start soon."
Ni-Su and Uru nodded their heads in agreement. Then they grabbed each other's hands and skipped the whole way to the tent. Shin and Kosuke seemed to know where she would go after finding Ni-Su as they were waiting outside the tent. "Who's this?" Shin asked jerking his thumb towards Uru.
"This is Ni-Su's new friend Uru. Apparently she lives a couple blocks away from the clinic," Ai replied.
"Why's she with you?"
"I invited her since she didn't look like she wanted to leave Ni-Su so soon. Besides she wanted to see the dance competition."
"Whatever let's go in and see Lin perform."
They shuffled in the best they could with how the crowd was. They sat down in the middle row seats so as not to be too far away and since they couldn't get closer. First up was some girl from out of town with auburn hair. Her dance was dedicated to fire as her movements were as erratic as a flame with sharp movements at some points. After her was a girl with black hair who dedicated her dance to butterflies. It was pretty but nothing spectacular. She could have moved around a bit more. There were a few other dances that they liked after that.
Finally it was Lin's turn to perform. She started with a bow before suddenly snapping up as she moved to her next pose. Her dance was beautiful as she smoothly performed every part of her routine. Ai knew Lin had a great chance of winning especially when Lin performed the most difficult moves seemingly effortlessly. When she was done the crowd roared. The people who came after Lin couldn't compare to her brilliance. In the end however she came in second place. Ai thought it was unfair since the only reason she didn't get first was for being too out there with her moves. "There's always next year," Ai told her after it was done. "Besides I think you deserved first."
"Thanks," Lin replied. "That means a lot."
"You were great out there!" Ni-Su complimented.
"Yeah it was amazing," Uru agreed glancing at Ni-Su. Ai caught the movement and hid a smile.
"Next up is the fighting competition!" Shin declared.
"They have a fighting competition?" Kosuke inquired with confusion.
"Well apparently since a lot of fights used to break out anyways in earlier festivals they decided to make it more organized in an effort to make sure less people were hurt," Lin explained.
"What happens if someone just pisses you off? Like they offend you while here…" Kosuke inquired.
"You can then go up to the applications booth dragging that person and demand a fight," Ai replied.
"Sounds hard to believe doesn't it?" Lin stated.
"Just a bit…"
"This system does work and there is less property damage," Ai told him.
Kosuke decided to take their word since they had both lived here longer than him. Before going to see the fighting matches they played a few games which Ai wouldn't stop playing until she won something for one of the residents. After that they each got snacks, mostly candy, to enjoy while they watched Shin fight. It was crowded when they made it to the make shift arena awaiting the next round of fighters. No weapons like knives or ropes or anything were allowed in the arena. Before each fight they did a thorough search of the contestant so there would be no 'surprises'.
Ai went to check the list of fighters to see Shin was midway down the list. Once again Ni-Su and Uru were on Kosuke and Ai's shoulders in order to see. The girls in the crowd for the most part weren't interested in the fights but were checking out the more muscular guys. Lin rolled her eyes at the girls there only to check out the guys while Ai patted her shoulder comfortingly. "Can girls enter?" Uru inquired staring at the competitors.
"No girl has ever tried before but I'm sure that they could. If not they could always pretend they were male in order to enter," Ai replied.
"So when I'm older I could enter?" Uru asked.
"If you want…Is there any particular reason why?"
"So when I'm older I can protect Ni-Su and chase away any perverts!" Uru replied. Ai couldn't help but chuckle at that.
"You'll have to train really hard then," Ai told her.
"I don't care!" Uru replied determinately. Lin giggled while Ni-Su blushed and smiled happily.
They quieted down when Shin's name was announced and looked toward the arena. Shin's opponent was a head taller than him and was overly muscular. Ai recognized him as being the town's blacksmith. She wasn't worried about Shin much though since he was an experienced fighter. A few people placed bets on the outcome of the match much to Ai's disgust. That was one thing she hated was betting or gambling. It was bound to be a good fight though.
He had started by throwing out a couple punches. None of them hit his opponent but Shin was able to gauge his strength. Shin then punched the guy's solar plexus causing him to lose his breath before doing a low leg sweep. The guy went down hard but he was able to stand up and throw a punch towards Shin's nose. Luckily Shin was able to dodge and use the guy's momentum to send him flying over his shoulder. After that the guy did not want to get up making Shin the winner. Despite his win in the competition as a whole he came in fifth. "I should have been first," Shin grumbled. "If it weren't for those two master martial artists I would have won."
"You did very well though," Ai pointed out. "Not many could have done as well as you against them." That seemed to cheer Shin up a bit. He still wished he had won though.
"There is always next year," Lin reminded him. Uru went up to Shin and tugged on his pant leg.
"Can you teach me how to fight?" she inquired. Shin looked quizzical until Ai whispered into his ear why she wanted him to train her.
"Of course I can," Shin told her. Uru jumped him and squeezed him with a hug. Ni-Su went up to Uru and kissed her cheek.
Both of them blushed and smiled shyly at each other. Ai watched them fondly and found it cute that they seemed to have crushes on one another. Shin tapped her shoulder to get her attention. Once he had it he indicated he wanted to talk with her alone. Nodding her head to show she understood Ai told the group she would be a minute before following behind Shin. He led them to a relatively secluded area. He then began shuffling his feet self-consciously. "I was wondering if maybe you would consider dating me…" He told her scratching at the back of his head in a nervous manner. Ai smiled at him sadly.
"I'm sorry…I don't see you in that manner," Ai replied.
"It's not like I'm the only one out there you can like."
"But I love you!"
"I don't doubt that, however I don't think it is in the way you think. Are you in love with me? I love you but only as a sibling or child." Shin looked heartbroken with each word. "There are others out there who will be in love with you that you will come to love more."
Shin tried to protest but Ai just shook her head no. Eventually Shin left in a depression. Things had not gone the way he expected. He had thought she might say yes. Ai let out a sigh. She hated making people sad but she knew it wouldn't work out between them. Part of why she thinks he said he loved her was because she had saved him all those years ago. Admiration was not love and Ai knew that's what Shin really felt for her. When she returned to the group she noticed Lin held back a little. "So did he finally confess?" she inquired.
"Yes…but I rejected him," Ai replied.
"Many reasons. For one I do not like him in that way I see him as family. Another reason is I believe he mistook his love for me as something other than familial. Besides I know a certain someone who loves him very much," Ai explained as she winked at Lin who blushed fiercely. "Why don't you go talk to him?" Just remember you are not a second choice. You are the first choice and he should not treat you as anything else." Lin nodded and jogged over to Shin who was away from the group still. Ai smiled sadly at the pair. She became so lost in thought that she didn't notice anything else until Ni-Su tugged at the bottom of her skirt. "Yes?"
"Nothing…you just looked really sad," Ni-Su replied.
"Don't worry I'm fine."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive." Ni-Su didn't look convinced at all but Ai gave her a small smile which reassured her a little bit. "Why don't you go play with Uru some more?" After Ai said that Ni-Su ran off to do what she suggested. It warmed her heart to see. It surprised her though when Kosuke came over to check on her.
"Are you really alright?"
"I'll be fine," Ai replied.
"Yes, is there something about me that says otherwise?"
"You just look really depressed."
Ai smiled at Kosuke. "I will be okay. All I need is some time to think." Kosuke nodded his head and backed off. He knew she would be fine eventually but he was more worried about the present. Ai seemed to radiate depression. He wanted that to chance quickly. Watching the crowd, Ai let out a sigh and lost herself in her thoughts. The rest of the festival went by similarly. Near the end Ai handed out the gifts she got for everyone. They appreciated their gifts and thanked her. Almost everyone noticed her demeanor but didn't comment. It unsettled them but they were sure all Ai needed was some time.
I hope you all enjoyed this! Please R&R