An hour had passed as Malnar was about to nod off. Her arrival to Dreamland was interrupted by footsteps. She got up from her seat to see Droka getting something from the cabinet. “Droka?” she asked. Droka jumped before assuring himself it was Malnar.
“After that nightmare,” he muttered, “I need something to calm my nerves.”
“LOOK UPON ME!” called a jolly voice, spooking both Malnar and Droka. A fat, jolly looking man in red was in the room. “I do beg your pardon,” laughed the man. “Did I startle you?”
“No, I just like to yelp in surprise all the time! Sheesh!” snapped Droka.
“Mordek?” asked Malnar.
“I am, indeed, Mordek!” replied the fat man. “One of the five Divine Ones that watch over the element of fire!”
“Are you the next guide?” asked Droka.
“That I am!” cheered Mordek. “I’m here to show you how the Solstice is celebrated by ALL walks of life! Come!” The scene melted away to reveal the Ruling Castle, the seat of Power in the Under-realm and Orbak’s home.
“What the?” muttered Droka.
“Okay, why are we back home?” asked Malnar. They heard footsteps approaching the castle gates. They whirled around to see a second Malnar approaching as she blew into her hands, then rubbed them. She then rang the buzzer.
“May I help?” asked an elderly gentleman’s voice.
“It’s me, Dweemar,” replied the second Malnar.
“Come on in, Your Highness,” bid Dweemar. “Your parents are eagerly awaiting you. I trust you had a pleasant night at your uncle’s?”
“That man lives in a practical ice box!” complained the second Malnar. Droka turned to the first and scowled.
“Well, you do!” she protested as everyone followed the second Malnar in.
“Malnar!” yipped a voice. The second Malnar was then wrapped in five pairs of arms all giving a simultaneous embrace. A white, fuzzy muzzle rubbed itself on the second Malnar’s face.
“Hey, Mama,” chuckled the second Malnar. The hugger, Elmpam Emboramii, stepped back and rubbed a pair of hands down the second Malnar’s face.
“Good grief, you’re frozen!” she observed. “The walk must have been biting cold!”
“So was my uncle’s apartment,” replied the second Malnar. “That man never stokes his fire! And his attitude’s no better! Do you know what he said to a pair of donation collectors?”
“He tossed them out without leaving a tin?” called a voice. Orbak stepped into the foyer to join his wife and daughter.
“He tossed them out without leaving a tin! Exactly!” confirmed the second Malnar. “I gave them twice my usual donation sum to cover for the verbal abuse they suffered! Leaving people to feel cold and miserable on the Solstice! What kind of man is he?!”
“A rather stingy one,” remarked Orbak. “I take it he refused to dine with us?”
“He said he’d see me in the Depths before that happens,” replied the second Malnar.
“Well, there ARE people who accepted and are more cordial than my brother,” mused Orbak. “I believe they’re…right there.” He pointed to a door with five people Malnar loved very much.
“LARDETH! GORFANTH! ARSHA! FORESNA! FALNII!” cheered the second Malnar happily. She rushed towards her future spouses and joined in the embrace. “Lardeth, Arsha, how did you finagle leave time?” asked the second Malnar.
“After the Borsootha affair,” replied Arsha, “Rokalla managed to convince Realmfleet that we needed a break.”
“So, we chose the Solstice to celebrate with you,” continued Lardeth.
“Well, it’s great to see you again!” cheered the second Malnar. She turned to her parents. “Is the ballroom ready?”
“Ready and eager for our feet and voices!” declared Orbak. “Come! We have a celebration to commence!” The scene changed to the ballroom where a violinist played and everyone gathered in a circle. Elmpam had a small handkerchief in her hand and danced as if she were hiding behind it while everyone clapped in tempo of the violin. While she danced and twirled clockwise, everyone else danced counterclockwise. Elmpam kept twirling until she danced towards her husband and danced with him before passing the handkerchief to him and taking his place in the circle. This time, Orbak was dancing as if he were hiding behind the handkerchief while everyone else circled him. He then danced towards one of Malnar’s sisters, Twentha, and she took his place in the middle. This went on and on until everyone had a turn. Soon, everyone was clapping as the violinist finished and bowed.
“I played that game when I was a child,” mused Droka.
“You ARE missing out on a great deal,” replied Mordek.
“Let’s see, how about a game of Similes?” suggested Foresna.
“Similes?” asked Lardeth. “What’s that?”
“One person has to start a simile,” explained Foresna, “and the person that is chosen by the speaker has to complete it. If they fail to do so, then they’re out. Allow me to demonstrate. Arsha, sly as…”
“Sly as a fox!” finished Arsha.
“And she’s safe,” continued Foresna.
“How will we know when we’re out?” asked the second Malnar.
“The person who’s out is the one sitting down,” declared Orbak. “Do you all mind if I start?”
“Be our guest, Your Majesty,” replied Foresna. Orbak then turned to Lardeth.
“Lardeth, proud as…” he proclaimed.
“A peacock,” finished Lardeth.
“Elmpam, tight as…” began Orbak.
“Your brother,” snarked Elmpam. That got a laugh from everyone.
“Oh, ha ha,” grumbled Droka.
“Not the simile I was thinking of,” answered Orbak. “Sorry, sweetie, but you need to sit.”
“Yeah, tell an Inu to sit,” Elmpam comedically grumbled. She had an exaggerated pout as she sat down.
“I believe that is enough for now,” mused Mordek. “Come, we must go to Delga’s castle.” The scene faded and changed into the main courtyard where Delga, Larbuu, and their respective harem partners cuddling on a bench.
“I’m afraid it’s true,” sighed Enfanti, “Dad can’t come to our Solstice bash.”
“That’s a pity,” sympathized Delga. “Then the mine’s atmosphere is taking its toll on his health too much.”
“Can’t we send help him?” asked Dorbu.
“Do you have 90,000 golds to cure him?” asked Enfanti.
“90,000?!” yelped Larbuu. “That’s robbery! And at the Solstice too!”
“So, the fact remains, your father won’t be joining us,” sighed Delga. “A pity. We haven’t seen him for months.”
“What is her father’s name?” asked Droka.
“Alnam Glarosa, I believe,” replied Malnar. Droka then went quiet. “…Refused a loan in his name?” she guessed.
“I had…no idea,” muttered Droka. The scene then changed again to a small, two story house with only one room for the entire family. It was a family of Flame Elves. A mother was cooking as her children were helping. “Who in the…?” quizzed Droka.
“Twelmek’s family, I believe,” mused Malnar.
“Come on, Dweena,” called the mother to the eldest daughter. “Come set the table.”
“Yes, Mother,” replied Dweena.
“Hey! Dad’s home!” called one of the twin boys.
“And Teegar, too!” cheered the other.
“Let them in!” directed the mother. The twins opened the door to let Twelmek and a young girl in. The girl was on Twelmek’s shoulder and had a crutch in her hand. Both cheered when they saw their family.
“Happy Solstice!” cheered Twelmek. He set the girl, Teegar, down and she was helped to the table. A goose was set in the middle of the table and drinks were poured for everyone.
“A rather small goose for two adults, an adolescent, and three children,” muttered Droka.
“That’s probably all he can afford,” replied Malnar. Twelmek then raised his glass.
“I’d like to propose a toast,” he called. “To Droka, the founder of this banquet.”
“Founder of the banquet, my ears!” snapped his wife as her ears moved so the flat tops were level with the floor. “I’ll tell you what, I’d send him a piece of my mind to feast on!”
“Gleemar, it’s the day of the Solstice,” replied Twelmek.
“And, from what you’ve personally said,” continued his wife, “he won’t have anything to do with it!”
“Mama, isn’t the Solstice a time for forgiveness?” asked Teegar. The mother drew in a breath, knowing her crippled daughter was right.
“I’ll do it for your sake,” she sighed, “your siblings’ sake, your father’s sake, and the day’s sake, but not for his.” She raised her glass. “A Happy Solstice to Baron Droka Emboramii. May he be very happy, wherever he is.”
“Baron Droka,” answered everyone before they took a sip.
“…I suppose I deserve that,” sighed Droka.
“Hm?” asked Malnar.
“Nothing,” dismissed Droka. “…Mordek, tell me about the young Teegar. How full will her life be?” Mordek winced before answering.
“I see an empty place at the table and a crutch carefully preserved,” he sighed.
“…A pity,” grunted Droka.
“Pity?” hissed Malnar. “You still believe what you said earlier?! How she should hurry up and die because she’s not productive enough?! I would advise you to hold your tongue until you know what the unproductive are and where it lives.”
“Man, if man you are,” continued Mordek, “you will find that, as it stands now, you are worth less in our eyes than MILLIONS like that poor man’s child, even BILLIONS worse off than her! Believe it or not, she is one of the lucky poor in having a roof over her head! Come!” The scene abruptly changed to a village of poor people. This was nothing more than a collection of raggedy tents with families huddled around small fires.
“What in the…?!” spluttered Droka. “Why are we in the bad part of town?!”
“This is one of the poor villages,” explained Malnar. “You know, one of the places where you said people badly off should go?”
“But…but I thought they were better constructed than this!” protested Droka. “I thought there would be, you know, actual buildings!”
“They can’t afford the upkeep of such buildings,” answered Mordek. Droka’s eyes were then grabbed by something beneath his robes.
“Lord Mordek, what’s that behind the robes? Is it yours?” asked Droka.
“No, THEY belong to all of our children, no matter the species,” corrected Mordek. He pulled them back to reveal a boy hissing and spitting with fingernails broken into claws and a girl with the telltale sagging stomach. “I present to you Young Master Ignorance and Young Miss Want,” introduced Mordek. “They desire warmth of any kind, whether it be from an actual fire or the flames of kindness, hence why they cling to me!”
“Don’t they have ANY help?!” wailed Droka.
“Are the shelters still in operation?” asked Malnar coldly.
“Why are you using my own words against me?!” snarled Droka.
“Because you’ll find that your words and actions,” hissed Malnar, “are more deadly that ANY weapon that can be constructed! Lord Mordek, I think we’ve…Mordek? Lord Mordek?!”
“He’s off on an errand,” whispered a voice. A woman in black robes then approached them. There was an uneasy air around everyone.
“L…Lady….Lady Balmo?” gulped Malnar.
“I am,” answered the Divine One, one of the five that watch over death.