Chapter One: Winged News
One year passed in peaceful bliss following the sacrifice of Maxim and Selan. Their five companions returned to their hometowns, and the world set about rebuilding and renewing itself after the near-disaster of Doom Island.
Tia had now remained in Elcid for her entire childhood and a majority of her adult life. Each day dragged by, a carbon copy of the one that had gone before. Routines, even ones she had once enjoyed, seemed tedious. For hours at a stretch while her weapons shop remained deserted, she would dream of traveling across the beautiful untamed continent with her childhood friend, Maxim. Yes, in those days she had feared for both his safety and for her own. Yet with that danger, came a guarantee of adventure and continual excitement. Remembering, always remembering, Tia took to roaming the outskirts of the town when the business hours had ended, looking always to the horizon to Parcelyte and beyond. "Oh Maxim," she would whisper.
After one such night of horizon gazing and twilight dream shadows, Tia awoke to a horrific cacophony. It sounded as if a naughty boy was shaking a tree filled with nesting birds and making their eggs splatter onto the street. She put on a robe and crossed the room to open the shutters. Peering out, she gasped in surprise. A man she had never before seen stood next to her house. A horse and cart she assumed to be his blocked half of the street. Inside the cart almost a hundred birds in crates fumed at the jostling of their abrupt halt. The man wore a beaten straw hat and faded overalls. His grubby feet looked as if he hadn't washed them in a year. He noticed Tia peeping at him, smiled, and tipped his hat. "G'morning, Lady," he said. A weed poked out of the corner of his grin.
"Good morning," Tia said, quite taken aback.
"Don't mind the birds," the man said. "They'll be cooing again once I let them out. It's been a long journey."
"What are the birds for?" Tia asked, curious.
"Why Lady," the bird keeper exclaimed. "Haven't you ever heard of carrier pigeons?"
Tia replied with a confused, blank stare.
"They carry mail by air…much faster 'n mules 'n such."
Suddenly Tia's heart lightened. This was just the thing to satisfy her longing for excitement.
"Tia!" her friend, Ami, who was passing by, called out. "What are you doing still in bed? You're going to be late to open the shop!"
Tia laughed. "Oh please, Ami! No one buys weapons anymore…" For a minute she thought with a pang of Maxim, the last monster hunter in the town.
"I wouldn't be so sure, Lady," the man said. "If your town's big enough for carrier pigeons, then you might attract a few monster hunters yet."
"Who is this guy?" Ami asked Tia.
The bird keeper swept off his hat with a flourish. "The name's Thomas. Call me Thom for short."
Tia smiled at Thom's antics. Ami, meanwhile, let herself into the weapons shop.
"I best be on my way," Thom said. "Now that I know where I'm settin' up shop."
"Where will you be?" Tia asked.
"Jus' next to the shrine. A little on the outskirts of town so the birds can roost if they want to." Thom clambered back into his cart, and the horse plodded away.
Tia closed her shutters and hurriedly dressed. When she at last entered the weapons shop, Ami was seated, drumming her knuckles on the table. "Think you took long enough, Tia?" her friend joked.
"Not that there are any customers," Tia sighed.
"That's what I came over to talk about. Times are changing, Tia." Ami's serious eyes fixed on Tia. "If we don't change with them, we might well go out of business."
Tia frowned. "The same thought has occurred to me," she admitted reluctantly.
"I have an idea, though," Ami said. "We can continue to sell weapons. However, in addition, we can sell regular cutlery. Since I can cook really well, I thought we might sell some of my best dishes as well."
Tia nodded, thinking wryly of her own attempts to cook. "It does sound like a good idea," she said. "This way, the shop will be a joint venture too. I'll have a sign made right away."
Ami smiled broadly. "Just you wait, Tia! Your whole house is going to smell good once I get my cooking in here."
Since business was still negligible that day, Tia and Ami decided to close the weapons shop turned restaurant and open again tomorrow. Tia waved goodbye to her friend. After Ami left, she noticed a trail of white-gray feathers strewn across the road. Thom's trail, she thought. She followed the path as it wound through the streets, eventually passing Elcid's shrine. Just beyond the building, Thom was unloading his crates.
"H'lo there, Lady," Thom said by way of greeting.
Tia giggled. "You don't have to call me 'Lady'," she said. "Just Tia will do."
"Tia…" Thom paused in his work. "What a pretty name. But so sad. It makes me think of tear."
"They used to call me 'tear' when I was little," Tia remembered. "Because I cried all the time."
"You'll find friends among these birds, then," Thom stated. "They always sound like they're sad about something." As if it could understand him, one of the birds cooed mournfully.
"How far can they carry letters?" Tia asked.
"Anywhere in the world, Lady," Thom declared with a wave of his hand. "Yeh don't have any lazy pigeons in my coop. I reckon they know more about the world than most the people who give 'em letters," he said proudly.
Anywhere in the world… Tia's thoughts were suddenly far away, once more drifting to the horizon.
The pigeon coop quickly became the talk of Elcid. Whenever people stopped to gawk, Thom would regale them with tales of the pigeons' travels. He seemed to know each one by name and by sight, something difficult since they all looked the same. Tia found that since her weapons shop had become a restaurant, she had less and less to do with her own business, even though she was listed as the primary owner. As the summer days wore on, she spent more and more time helping Thom with his booming business. Sometimes they sat beneath the shade of the trees sipping iced tea and talking. Thom told tales of far-off cities where bigger birds carried small packages. "I hear the port cities are annoyed with those birds," Thom said. "And who wouldn't be? They're messing up shipping. Those Narcysus folk especially are gonna have themselves a good stew if they hear about the dragons that can move a whole cargo in half the time as a ship. The air is the new sea, Tia!"
Late one afternoon, Tia went to see Thom as she always did. He squinted at her and smiled. "I've been waitin' for yeh. Yeh got a letter." He held out a crisp envelope to her.
"I did?" Tia eagerly read the spiraling script that spelled out her name. Yet who was it from? she wondered as she cracked the slender seal. She settled down into the shade of the pines to read the enclosed letter.
I hope that this letter finds you in good health and spirits. It is I, Artea, writing from Gruberick. It has been a year since Maxim and Selan fell with Doom Island. I have urgent cause to reunite with the other four companions… This news I cannot disclose in this letter. I implore you to forgive this secrecy and to hasten to Gruberick. Here I hope to gather Maxim and Selan's remaining companions and address the aforementioned matter no later than mid-summer's eve.
Tia felt a familiar wave of sadness welling up inside of her. Simultaneously she felt the old urge to repress it. She bit her lip as hard as she could. Memories of Maxim brought her pain like nothing else did. And yet, this letter, this summons, was the perfect excuse to leave Elcid and chase the horizon. Torn, she stared at the letter for a long time in silence.
Thom raised an eyebrow. "Feeling some old wanderlust, eh?"
"Yes," Tia replied. How ironic, she thought. Her journey with Maxim had been the cause of this terrible hurt within her…and now yet another journey called to her…a journey of reunion with his old friends. Even now, cut off from Maxim by the chasm of mortality and immortality… Yet his pull on me from beyond the grave is as compelling as ever.
She made her decision as the first streaks of red bled through the golden sky.
I do not own Lufia or any of its characters. This work is fandom only. Please don't sue me.