Chapter Two

It's not that I intentionally blow things out of proportion. Contrary to popular belief, I don't enjoy being known as a drama queen. Most of the time, I don't even mean to make people uncomfortable. It just happens. Some people are talented at singing. Or playing the kazoo.

I'm good at running my mouth.

It doesn't matter what type of news I'm hit by - whether it be as life-altering as Senel and Shirley doing the horizontal mambo or as mind-numbingly boring as everything that comes out of Will's piehole --- I say the first thing that pops into my head. It's always been like that. I should have a sign on my forehead saying CAUTION: No Filter Between Brain and Mouth.

But in my defense, I was just saying out loud what everyone else was thinking. Senel and Shirley getting jiggy with it deserved at least a decorum of freaking-out time (Senel! Shirley! Jiggy!). And after all, this is me were talking about here --- the same motor mouth who talks about Chloe's rack like theyre sacred relics of the saints --- they had to have known beforehand how I'd react and if they didn't, well then they're not very good friends, are they? Hah! My logic wins.

Chloe was right though, when she said how I'd be happy for them when the blinding shock wore off and I was substantially less hysterical about Senel and Shirley getting down with it. Can you believe it? They're going to have a little blonde, blue-eyed kid whose going to inherit Shirley's bad whistling skills and Senel's tendency to sleep in. I'm going to be an aunt. The kind of aunt who gets plastered each holiday, providing the family with endless stories but who takes her niece or nephew to their first rock concert and whatnot. It was kind of exciting. And between me and Chloe, I would definitely be the hip aunt. No offence, but seriously, just look at me.

I have cool written all over me.

"I don't want to alarm you or anything C, but there's a dude taking a dump outside our window."

Chloe's head popped out through the bathroom doorway, toothbrush sticking out the side of her mouth, a disgusted look painted on her face.

"I told you not to open the blinds."

"Ewwwww, now he's wiping his ass with ---"

"Norma! I don't want to hear this!"

The garden below our window was bathed in the morning sunlight, but it wasn't the scent of early jasmine, the sound of some twittering birds, or the sight of pretty flowers that drew my attention. Looking straight down from our second-story window was a man. A strange half-naked man using some rose bushes as a toilet. That was just wrong on so many levels. Obviously, Moses had received permission from Lady Musette to let him and his boys stay in town for the wedding. So now we've got no choice but to watch shameless, unkempt bandits demonstrate their complete and utter lack of understanding about the delicate concept of common courtesy. Trust me when I say that this was not how I wanted to start my day. Or any day for that matter. But this is the kind of stuff that happens when you get too chummy with bandits and let them camp out all around your town. You witness things. Barbaric things.

When I woke up this morning, Chloe was already up getting ready for the glorious start in the tantalizing journey that is Senel and Shirleys Epic Wedding of utter Epicness. We were sharing a twin bed room in the local inn that we pre-booked since Will had the misfortune of already having Harriett living with him, enough said, and Senel's house was already overcrowded with the frightening blondeness of both Walter and Thyra.

After I finally managed to tear my gaze away from the appalling sight, Chloe and I made our way over to Shirley and Senel's place. The former had invited us over for a small get-together since there was now only five more days until the wedding and we had yet to understand what a part-Orerines, part-Ferines, part-Oreseron wedding entailed. On the way there we walked by a couple of more bandits passed out on park benches. One was half-heartedly swatting away some little kid who kept poking him in the ribs with a stick. It was a sign of how special the town of Werites Beacon was, that its inhabitants did not even bat an eye at waking up in the morning and seeing bandits parked on their lawns, using their sprinklers to shower off. Very special indeed.

So long story short, Shirley forgave me for the spazz attack after I admitted how rude and immature and just a tad creepy I was last night. Senel however, as he was leaving his house this morning all decked out in his battle gear, was totally giving me the cold shoulder which he knew I couldn't stand because of my pathological need to be the center of attention. I tried kicking him in the shin but my aim was off and I slammed my toes against his thick metal anklets instead and had to hop around in pain for the next five bloody minutes while Senel stood watching and smirked. What a jerk. Shirley could do so much better.

Speaking of Shirley, I can't believe how I didn't notice she was pregnant earlier! The girl was scarfing down cocktail wieners faster than you could say knocked up. And now that I'm aware she's carrying another life inside her, I can totally tell that she's gotten pretty pudgy around the middle, which is kind of surprising since she's still only in her first trimester. Jay and his otter family were also there, sitting around the dining table sipping tea. Beside them, a bored looking Harriet was snapping her gum and flipping through a magazine. Thyra was there too, shuffling papers and scribbling down notes and stuff.

The weirdest thing was not the trio of talking otters having tea in the kitchen, Jay taking a break from his stalking business, the fact that Harriet was reading, or Thyra's obsessive wedding-planning however --- no, it was the sight of Walter sewing by hand.

Sewing. I kid you not.

"You sew?" I asked him in a very casual voice as I exchanged disturbed looks at Chloe while we sat down at the table across from him and Thyra.

Very slowly, Walter looked up from the blue shimmery fabric gathered on his lap and stared at me balefully until I couldn't humanely stand it any longer and looked away. Again, very slowly, Walter lowered his gaze and resumed his stitching as I scrubbed my eyes furiously with my knuckles, trying to get rid of the burning sensation of his Evil Eye.

"Walter is making my wedding dress." Shirley helpfully supplied as if that simple statement didn't make the entire situation any less odd. Then she lowered her face and shovelled a carton of cookie dough ice cream into her eager mouth. Jeeze, pace yourself girl.

I tried to make sense of it all --- Walter, a seamstress?? But then I just gave up, and made peace with the fact that Walter must be very secure in his masculinity.

"In a Ferines Wedding," boomed Thyra's voice, making me jump, "the bride is dressed in blue as a symbol of peace and prosperity, as well as new beginnings."

"How delightful." Quppo said, "I'm sure the dress will look even more beautiful once Senel comes back with the necessary items." At our confused looks, he leaned forward towards Chloe and I and explained, "in our custom, the bride wears the crown of a Mighty One, the fur of a Big Foot and the fang of a Really Really Huge Demon her betrothed has all slain."

Thyra glared.

Quppo smiled.

"Explain to me the point in wearing those things again?" Thyra scornfully asked.

"They're a sign of strength, vitality and good faith." Quppo said as if that was a no-brainer.

"No, I mean Shirley and Senel aren't even Oresoren! It's completely unnecessary."

"Senel and Shirley's eyes are strong. Their eyes show great determination and ---"

"What does that even mean ---"

"What's a Really Really Huge Demon?" Chloe cut in hastily as we all gazed in concern at the bulging vein popping out from Thyra's neck.

"Let me guess --- it's really, really huge." I piped up.

"Yes!" Pippo exclaimed. "It's a truly heinous monster that prowls underground caverns and drinks the blood of the living."

"I hope Senel will be okay." Shirley murmured, pausing mid-scoop from the ice cream carton she cradled in her hands to cast a worried glance out the window. Chloe also look troubled. Needless to say, it was all very inappropriate because, newsflash! Senel is a douche bag.

"Yes if it's as heinous as you say, he's going to need all the help he can get." Chloe said, going into knight-mode and about two seconds away from popping out a set of nads between her legs.

"That's unnecessary." Walter - gasp - spoke for the first time, whose nimble fingers stilled at the mention of Senel battling bloodthirsty demons.

Chloe faltered. "Excuse me?"

"I'm sure Senel can handle the monsters on his own." There was a hopeful glimmer within Walter's baby-blue eyes (making him look fifty times more blonde-licious, I might add). Yeah! Let Senel handle ridiculously large monsters alone! I had to privately agree with Walter's sentiments - my toe was still throbbing after all.

"Well I don't." Chloe stated simply, and frowned. Obviously, she had yet to learn that her need to desperately seek any opportunity to help others could just suck it.

"It's all right Chloe. Will and Moses are with Senel too, so he isn't alone." Jay assured her.

Chloe grudgingly relaxed in her seat, and Walter looked disappointed. So did I for that matter. A rather awkward we-have-major-cultural-differences silence ensued.

"Soo about that wedding..." I ventured.

It was all Thyra needed to begin a very long-winded explanation about the wedding arrangements, including everybodys exact roles in it, the color scheme, how we're going to meld everyone's customs seamlessly together into this Epic Wedding and of course, how the hell we're going to cram all the Ferines, Oresoren and the inhabitants of Werites Beacon together for the ceremony and reception. It felt like being in one of Jay's battle plans again, as we huddled together over Thyra's strategic diagrams and elaborate charting. It was also very exhausting, which is really saying something since I have discovered a legendary jewel that could grant its user any wish imaginable, taught myself an ancient nearly-forgotten language and helped save the world --- all before I was nineteen --- but those activities had nothing on Thyra's flip-chart.

When I stop to think about it, I've done more with my life than most have accomplished in a lifetime. Which brings up the noteworthy fact that I also cured an old man of his blindness when I could've used the wish on more important but less selfless things --- like bigger boobs. And yes, I am still kicking myself over that. Then again, in doing so, I also gave said old man a second chance at living life to the fullest. It's amazing what the regaining of sight can do for a geezer. Last I heard, Zamaran was sailing around the world on his new baby the S.S. Svenster (I named it myself). He's also climbed a mountain, swum with sharks, and shot a bear. Not bad for an eighty year old, I must say.

Thyra ostentatiously slapped her pointing stick at the bolded letters Location: Fallen Lands on the large flip-chart beside her. ("You mean the Quiet Lands? A place said to have been visited by the legendary Oresoren hero, Capoeiracco?" Quppo interjected. "Grrrr," went Thyra).

"At 1600 hours, all guests shall be escorted to the Werites Lighthouse." Thyra barked like a drill sergeant. "Using the elevator, we can get around two dozen people at a time underneath the Legacy."

"There are monsters crawling all over the Quiet Lands." Chloe pointed out sceptically. "What if a giant Fortress Turtle suddenly decides to gate crash the processional?"

Thyra smiled and I knew somewhere, a puppy had just died.

"Oh there won't be any gate crashers." She informed her coolly.

And you know what? We all believed her too.

"I've also taken the liberty of writing out everyone's schedule for the big day." Thyra added and started passing each of us fifty-inch thick novels. "Make sure you follow it to a 't' and everything will work out perfectly."

I briefly skimmed down my list and wondered if this was all a joke (0900 - Wake up. Eat breakfast. 1400 - Do hair and make-up.) One look at Thyra's rigid face though, and I realized that she had about as much of a chance at cracking jokes than Walter and Jay suddenly busting out and doing the cha-cha together. Can you believe it? She`s starting to make Will seem cool.

..Wait. I did a double-take. She even scheduled time for me to use the bathroom. What is up with that?

"Give a Best Man's Toast?" Chloe read out loud dejectedly, after skipping ahead to the reception portion of her time-line.

Poppo raised his hand, confused. "Mine just says die."

"Mine too." Said the two other brothers.

"This is stupid." Harriett declared as everything shuffled their feet and secretly agreed.

"The ceremony," Thyra loudly exclaimed, in order to drown out everyone else's voices, "will be held on the seashore and will commence at approximately 1700 hours."

"Hold on!" I said, pointing to my schedule. "At 1700, mine says 'Fight Senel'. Not that I'm complaining but that can't be part of the wedding can it?"

At this, Thyras face grew very stony and she shot Quppo, Pippo and Poppo her dirtiest look yet. Obviously, their cuteness factor had no effect on her. Her heart truly must be made of stone indeed. Before she could explain, Jay cut in after shooting Thyra his own dirty glare.

"In an Oresoren wedding, the groom must be willing to prove he is a worthy mate by challenging the bride to a fight and winning."

"WHAT?" Both Chloe and Walter stood up at the exact same time and shoved their faces so far into Jay's personal space, he grimaced and tried to lean back.

"You can't be serious! Shirley is pregnant!"

"Are you insane, she is in no condition to fight ---"

"Hence why Norma will be taking Shirley's place." Jay replied calmly, although he looked irritated at having to pull out his handkerchief to wipe their spit from his face.

"But I'm not the one marrying Senel!" I screech in panic. Of its own accord, my brain flashed to images of a future where I was Mrs. Norma Coolidge. A future where Senel had a moustache and I was fat and had three screaming, wailing kids clinging to my legs, with crazy-ass white hair and snot running down their faces.

"No you're not," Jay agreed, "but in the case where the bride can't fight, she can appoint her near-sister to act in her stead. Since Shirley is indeed pregnant, and we would like to do this ancient ritual justice --- as Shirley's Maid of Honor, you are the equivalent version of her near-sister."

I blinked and glanced over at Shirley. She smiled back at me half-apologetically with chunks of cookie all over her teeth. Gawd, the things I do for that chick. Like the time I rescued her from ninjas. And bandits. And Vaclav. And Nerifes knows who else in the near future because let's face it -- I love Shirley but she's the dictionary's definition of a damsel in distress.

Chloe and Walter no longer looked so concerned and settled back into their seats, the jerks. Walter's gaze kept flickering back and forth from his sewing to Shirleys belly though, and Chloe had somehow positioned herself beside Shirley's chair in an awkward angle, giving her the split-second advantage of possibly throwing herself across Shirley's lap in the unlikely likelihood that a masked assailant would break in and stab Shirley multiple times in the stomach.

They were definitely taking their roles as godparents way too seriously.

"All right bring it on." I agreed. "I'll just zap Senny with a couple of Thunder Arrows and then---"

"Weapons and spells are prohibited." Jay added.

My jaw dropped at the unfairness of it all.

"But I'm a Crystal Eren!" I protested. Without my spells, I wouldn't stand a chance against Senel's fists of fury. "He's going beat me to a bloody pulp!"

"He's supposed to beat you to a bloody pulp," Harriet said nastily, "if he wants to marry Shirley."

"Can I at least keep my straw?" I appealed to the Oresoren directly. I'll be the first to admit that my choice in weaponry was unconventional at best, but Shirley's quill and Grune's urn and Will's humongous-hammer-that-he-never-uses-just-lugs-around-in-a-desperate-bid-to-show-off-for-the-ladies are also really weird weapons and hardly anyone ever points that out. At least my straw doubles as a party trick.

All three otters formed a huddle and muttered amongst themselves. Finally, Quppo looked up and nodded yes.

Well that's something. Now I'll be able to lose to Senel with style.

As we quickly learn next, the Ferines' idea of a wedding didn't do much better in the weirdo department (but that's cultural bias for you). Firstly, instead of holding flowers, the bridesmaids are supposed to carry these huge honkin' parasols in front of the bride in order to shelter her from evil or in Thyra's words: divert misfortune.

Secondly, the entire ceremony is completely and utterly silent. And I mean silent. No one is allowed to talk or cry or pass gas (three things which right away, you can just tell that Moses wouldn't be able to pull off). Basically, the bride and groom end up kneeling in water and praying to Nerifes for his blessing until sparkly lights appear in the water to indicate that yes, Nerifes deems you a worthy match (although, you'd think the Rite of Feriyen would already confirm you of this fact).

Oh, and while they're praying, the four closest female relatives to the bride (which will translate to Thyra, Chloe, Harriett and me) are supposed to swim with our parasols around the couple --- apparently to form a protective ring or something (called the Dance of the Sea), and aren't allowed to stop until the lights start sparkling. That's all well and good for the Ferines since they can breathe underwater and swimming is like walking to them, but what does that leave the rest of us Orerines folk? Chloe began hyperventilating at the mere mention of kneeling in water. Can you imagine what she'd be like trying to swim around Shirley and Senel for a couple of minutes? And what about me? After Senel makes minced meat out of me during our fight, how will I be able to stay afloat? Obviously there are gaping holes that needed to be mended.

"Chloe doesn't know how to swim." I interjected in the middle of Thyra describing how newly husband and wife are then joined together by rope, his left hand to her right hand, and are to remain bound like that for the duration of the evening, indicating that they'll remain linked to one another for the rest of their days. (Whether or not that sounds particularly romantic or depressing depends entirely upon your viewpoint).

"You can't swim?" Walter said in a tone that was half-disbelief and half-disgust. I might as well have announced that Chloe needed breathing lessons from the way Walter was looking at her.

Chloe was humiliated. "I can a little..." She trailed off defensively.

"Either you can swim or you can't." Thyra said shortly, folding her arms and looking down at Chloe both literally and figuratively. Clearly Thyra considered her to be the weakest link.

"She sinks like an anchor." I said and ignored the annoyed look Chloe sent my way. She always did take her weaknesses way too seriously.

"It's okay if Chloe doesn't swim." Shirley stated and I could hear Chloe breathe a sigh of relief.

Thyra shook her head adamantly. "We need four females to complete the Dance of the Sea. To keep the bad spirits away." There was a manic glint in her eye and everyone could sense that she would have a cow if everything didn't go as exactly as she'd planned it. Sheesh, you'd think it was her wedding with the way she was hung up over every little detail.

"What if someone gives her some swimming lessons before the wedding?" Jay suggested.

"Well I certainly don't have the time." Thyra snapped. "And neither does Shirley. We already have enough on our plate planning this wedding as it is."

"Don't look at me." Harriet said and made a face.

"We can teach you Chloe!" Poppo exclaimed cheerfully. "Just kick with your hind feet, and move your tail at the same time."

"She doesn't have a tail." I reminded him.

"Oh yeah..."

"Maybe Senel or Moses can?" Shirley ventured.

"We probably can't expect Senel and the others to be back for another three days at most." Jay said evenly. "Do you know how rare a Really Really Huge Demon is?"

I could tell that Chloe was getting steadily more embarrassed and ashamed at holding up the wedding planning due to her lack of swimming ability. She really hates feeling incompetent.

"It's really not that big of a deal." Chloe protested weakly, avoiding everyones gaze. "I can manage just fine."

If by "fine" you mean drowning at a wedding in front of a gazillion guests while executing the most pathetic pile-o-crap dance ever, then sure. Yeah, we believe you.

"How can you not know how to swim." Walter continued to voice his disbelief, as he expertly threaded his needle in and out of the piece of cloth he was working on. Chloe flushed and bristled in self-defense so I decided it was time to rescue her from any further humiliation.

"Relax C, I can teach you." I give her a little reassuring pat on the arm. "I'm not the best but I'm a pretty decent doggy-paddler." Either way, none of us were going to look half as graceful frolicking in the water as Thyra would be.

By then, people were getting tired and cranky so a break was called. I leaned back in my chair and heaved a huge sigh, trying to absorb all these hectic responsibilities I was given.

This week was going to be insane. I have to help Chloe get over her dislike for large bodies of water, fulfill the maid of honor duties Thyra will allow me do, find enough footage for our wedding gift, and mentally prepare myself for the duel against Senel. Not to mention find someone for Chloe to fall in love with --- which at this point, is rapidly becoming a distant dream. There are literally no guys I can think of worth Chloe bothering with. I might as well just give up now because there is no way she was compatible with any red-blooded male in this whole town. Or ship for that matter. Pathetic! It was like... like....

At that exact moment, something incredible happened.

The clouds parted and a ray of sunlight slid past the blinds and hit Walter, who was directly facing the window, in such a way that his entire body appeared to glow. His blonde hair shone like a golden halo, and his eyes sparkled like bright blue stars. With his pale skin nearly translucent in the surrounding light and the sun somehow softening his outline and gentling his features, he looked like a sexually ambiguous angel come to answer my prayers.

It was so genius. So perfect. Why hadn't I seen it before?

A chorus of hallelujahs and angelic voices rang through my head at the sudden epiphany I was experiencing.