Chapter 31: Flower Swarm

Sunday, May 26

When I woke up that morning, the first thing I really noticed was the flower petals on the window of my attic bedroom. It seemed harmless, if unusual. When I stepped out of my house later, it was like I had stepped back in time a few weeks. The air was scented like fruit blossoms and small petals were drifting down lightly, just like the end of the Cherry Blossom Week. Looking at the nearest apple tree, I saw that it was lush and green with nice red fruits. No flowers. The flowers near my house still had their petals, so where were these ones in the air coming from?

I took a walk around town, seeing people preparing for another day of the open festival. There were a few weeds around town, but just the usual amount that I plucked. The flower gardens were undisturbed. While no one could explain the petal shower, no one saw it as much trouble either. I wondered if it was Yggdrasil, but then recalled that it had done this with the fruit trees so it shouldn't have any flowers to shower on us again.

"We haven't picked up any unusual signs yesterday or today," Copper told me when I stopped by the police station. "Other than these petals, which we're still evaluating."

"I see," I said, rubbing my hand through my hair. "I feel like something's not right, though I can't say what it is."

"Then that is a worrying sign, but it's hard to say what it means," Copper said. "As appropriate as it is, we'll need to find a way to stop this flower shower. Leave it to us, and let us know if you notice anything change."

Around noon, it was getting a little crowded in Verdant, especially in the area around town hall and Nookway. The petals covered the ground, rising up in swirling plumes with every step. It was strangely beautiful, especially where a spontaneous dance area had sprouted up. Off to one side, K.K. Slider had shown up to play on his guitar, while some couples danced in the falling petals. A few booths were there, with flower-themed items to sell, garden information to teach, or flower-related clubs to join.. There was also someone who'd brought in a fake well, decorated with rose vines.

It seemed like Bluebear and Rowan had started this dance session up when they found K.K. there. At least, I guessed based on how they were encouraging other couples to join in. "Come on, why not have a romantic dance with your sweetheart in this magnificent flower shower?" Bluebear said cheerily to some who were watching. "How often do you get a chance for such a perfect moment together in such beautiful weather?"

"You're more beautiful than the weather's ever been, the wonder of my life," Rowan said to her.

Bluebear laughed, grabbing his paw to start dancing again. "You're more wonderful, my flower, better than the flowers."

"Better than peaches?"

"Or better than mangoes?" she said teasingly.

"Careful saying that," Rowan joked, twirling around with her and kicking up lots of the petals around them.

"Ugh, they're so embarrassing sometimes," Alice said, close by me. The young koala was crouching on the ground, picking up the petals and letting them fall through her fingers.

"It probably means a lot to them," I said to her. "Maybe you'll know how it is someday."

"Maybe," she said, thoughtful. "But I'd be embarrassed to talk like that out in public."

I shook my head. "You don't really notice that, when you're in love. Only your sweetheart matters; it can be like the rest of the world isn't there."

"Sometimes I can see that in mom and dad," Alice said, standing up and dusting her paws off. "Were you ever like that before?"

A petal fell onto my nose, so I brushed it off. Somewhere in with the noise, I could hear some bees buzzing. "I'm sure of it. I don't remember a lot of my previous life, but I can remember how I felt about my husband, Mitchell. He has a lot to handle now, because we had two kids as well."

"Oh, that has to be hard," Alice said. "I have a hard enough time watching over Lucky on my own sometimes, when mom and dad are out for a couple of hours. It'd be nice if you could remember."

"Would you want some help in remembering?" someone behind us said.

Turning around, I noticed that we were in front of the guy with the fake well. It certainly looked real enough, with a stone wall, a wooden room, a bucket on a rope with a crank to raise and lower it, and the roses (which were definitely real). But we'd never had a well in Verdant, so it had to be just for show. The guy there was a dark green bulldog with white markings, wearing a yellow tank top and brown shorts.

"It's all right," I said. "I have enough to do in this life without recalling my last."

"But it'd be nice, huh?" the bulldog asked, smiling. "Maybe my wishing well could help."

"Do you draw up wishes in the well's bucket?" Alice asked, curious. "So she could wish for some memories back?"

He patted the low roof of the well, causing a slide of petals off it. "Sort of. In the mortal realm, wells draw up water from underground, but it doesn't work that way here. My well's bucket won't draw up anything. But, it does connect to a different kind of well: the well of memories and imagination that makes up the foundations of every town in this realm. Send a wish coin down there with a wish and anything might happen."

"I heard something like that from Rover," I said. "Except about the wish part. Towns formed when spirits came together, building off what was in their minds."

"Then everybody's memories are below us?" Alice asked.

"That's right," the bulldog said. "Normally you can't go deep enough under a town to reach it. But that's why my wishing well is special; it's extra deep."

She looked at the well, then asked, "So what are the wishing coins? Are you selling them?"

He nodded. "Yup, for one bell a piece. It's a bargain, considering what might happen."

Nothing might happen, but it was only one bell. Alice bought two of them and gave me one. "Here, you can have this wish because I had a lot of fun at your house this week. One coin's enough for my important wish." Putting the coin her her paws, she brought it to her mouth and whispered something to it. Then she tossed it into the well.

"Someday, your wish may come true," the bulldog said, nodding. "I hope it's soon."

"Thanks, Alice," I said, looking over my coin. It seemed to be made of gold, with an etching of a four-leaf clover on each side. But I wasn't thinking of trying to get my memories back with this. Something else seemed more important. Bringing the coin close, I whispered to it, "I wish that my son Allen stays well and overcomes his grief." Hopefully my prayers, words, and even this wish would reach him. Then I tossed the gold coin into the well too.

From there, I continued to walk around town and talk with many of the animals there. I checked in on the bake sale, finding Mina running it with two animals from out of town. "Oh hey, I hope you don't mind, but I roped some of my buddies into helping out," the rabbit said. "The one on my left is Keaton, and the one on my right is Octavian. Guys, this is the anchor of this lovely town, Nadia."

"Good to meet some friends of a neighbor," I said, shaking the wing of Keaton. He was a sky blue eagle, apparently a bold fellow as he was wearing a bright pink windbreaker.

"Good to meet you, dear lady," Keaton said, nodding. "Actually, it's kinda funny, but this is the first time the three of us have met face to face. We've been pen pals through four different clubs that we all belonged to at one point or another."

Mina nodded. "Yeah, yeah, and it was really weird because it was unintentional. We started exchanging letters through the film club, and then discovered that we all belonged to the exact same clubs. It's like we're all siblings except, you know, it's kinda impossible because we stayed the same animals when we crossed over."

"I still think it's weird that Min is a girl," Octavian said. He was unlike any other animal I'd seen here because he was an octopus, with red skin. Because he had two arms on the table and two arms crossed over his chest, he must have used four of his eight tentacles for legs. He did wear a purple t-shirt with a yellow star on it, as well as a droopy hat that seemed to dribble water from an unseen source.

"What, you couldn't tell from my cute signature?" she asked, twitching her ears.

He put one tentacle over his eyes. "Well, I thought you were just a strange cute-loving guy. Named Min..." he curled another tentacle in thought, "Minato or something."

"It's just Mina," she said.

"If they want to help out, I see no reason to refuse," I said. Then I yawned. "Aaaa, sorry." I rubbed my eyes, feeling tired

"It's still morning," Mina said. "How're you tired? You're up early most days I see you."

I flicked some petals off my dress. The floral scents were nice, although they didn't make me feel any more alert. "I've been busy the past few days, that's probably why. I think I'll go get some coffee." After a little more talk, I bought a coffeecake cupcake from them to go with the coffee.

On the way up the ramp, I noticed again that there seemed to be an awful lot of animals here today. And at points, I was losing sight of my feet to the fallen flowers. The petals seemed to make the air blurry. Or was it something with me? Or the town, because I was connected to the town. My feelings could make the town suffer, so a problem with the town could make me suffer. It was... it was the crowd, I realized. Somehow, there were too many visitors. I was certain that the security forces would have put a limit on how many could come, unless Loki had broken that barrier somehow.

I felt like I should go talk to Copper again, or Einziel if I could find him. But as I looked through the swirling petals and trees, I wasn't sure where I was. The petal shower was getting stronger and I could hear the buzzing of bees.

A paw touched my shoulder; Snake had landed by me from somewhere in the trees. "Nadia, what's going on?" he asked me in concern.

"There's too many visitors in town," I said. The train whistled nearby, then pulled out of the station. I had come close to being on the tracks if Snake hadn't stopped me. "It's putting stress on Verdant and the normal rules are breaking down. It's wearing me out too."

"I noticed that," he said. "I've been trailing you, but I didn't realize how badly you were feeling until just now." Keeping a hold of me, he tugged me in another direction. "Come on, the police station isn't too far."

"Okay," I said, letting him lead me. Once the round building came into view, I asked, "Could you find Einziel if he isn't there?"

"Will he be in town?" Snake asked, looking at me.

I nodded. "He's... he was moving around, but he looks like a normal calico cat person working at an ice cream cart. He has a halo marking around his ear, though."

"Oh, him? I saw him; I'll find him in a jiffy." We entered the station, finding a gorilla officer and Booker there. "Hey, Nadia's not doing well," he told them, guiding me in. "She says there's too many people in town."

"Um, we've been monitoring how many people come and go," Booker said, checking a notepad. "Like... there's 43 here now."

"I had a count of 47," the gorilla said.

"It sure looks like there's more folks than that around town," Snake said. "Anyhow, I'm off to find Einziel." He then hurried back out into the falling petals.

"Oh dear," Booker said, rubbing his neck. "We should, well, call the train directors."

"I'm on it," the gorilla said, taking a phone and dialing as he spoke.

"You come sit down here, Nadia," Booker said, gesturing toward a bench against the wall. "I'll make sure you're safe."

I had barely sat down when Snake and Einziel arrived, the latter letting his wings show again. "Now what's going on?" the angel asked. Once he spotted me, he came over to the bench and put a paw on my forehead.

"She feels like there's too many people in Verdant right now," Snake said again. "Also, the bees are really agitated. I noticed a couple of folks that had gotten stung just in going after you."

"Bees aren't supposed to sting without being provoked," Einziel said, still examining me. "Right... if this goes on much longer, he might be able to bend rules even further... you have them at the train watch? Tell them not to bring any more visitors to Verdant."

"Will do," the gorilla said, then went back to his phone conversation. After a couple of minutes, he moved the receiver away from his face. "They've got inaccuracies too in how many they think are here. And," something over the phone startled him, "What? Really?" Then he looked back to us. "There's been a train accident in the mists, on the westbound tracks from Verdant."

Einziel got up and went to the phone. "I'll handle this," he ordered, taking the phone. "Keep an eye on this station; make sure she stays awake for now." He then gave more orders to the train handlers before swapping over to a new call.

"Should I grab you some coffee, Nadia?" Snake asked. "Since you were after that."

I nodded. "Yes, thanks. Brewster should know what I like."

Snake nodded, then left the police station. The gorilla officer took his place at the door, while Booker came over to sit next to me. "Well, um, this has been a hectic weekend," he said. "Even with the help."

At that point, I was feeling really tired. But it seemed to be important that I stayed awake. "Yesterday was nice and peaceful; we're actively under attack today, it seems."

"Um, usually the attacks don't get within the town," Booker said, rubbing his head. "Although, sometimes things used to happen at the tree late at night. Not so much now that it has a guardian."

"What kind of guardian is there?" I hadn't noticed anyone or anything different at the tree, but it had apparently been there for a while.

"I can't really say," he replied. "As long as you don't see it, it's doing its job. It's certainly a strange creature, kind of scary although it helps out well. Don't worry about it. So, um," he kicked his feet sheepishly. "I should keep talking to you, but um, I don't talk much, so..."

"What kind of hobbies do you have?" I asked.

"Hobbies? Um... I like finding things. Like seashells, and lost items. Doesn't matter if I can keep it, I just like finding them. What do you like doing?"

We talked a little, a bit of an awkward conversation since he wasn't confident in conversing and I was tired. But then Snake showed up (on the bench with us, in his usual manner) with a coffee for me, Booker, and himself. Einziel was on the phone for a few more minutes, then hung up and turned to us. The first thing he did was give Snake a sharp look. "You warped into here."

"Erm, yeah," he admitted, seeming embarrassed. "I only do it when nobody sees me, since I can only warp when unseen."

Einziel gave a curt nod. "It's better that it stays that way. With this flower swarm going on, you have plenty of chances. Here." He came over and pulled a photo out of thin air, handing it to Snake. "This animal is allergic to bee stings and she's currently in Verdant. There will be a train arriving shortly to pull out what people it can. Make sure she leaves on the train, as well as those who've already been stung by the bees."

"Gotcha," Snake said, taking the photo and zipping outside, to the surprise of the gorilla at the door.

Once he was gone, the cat angel scratched at an ear, looking worried. "All right then. Rover's on his way to handle the derailment in the mists, but we'll still have some trains coming in and backing out until the way is clear. I called Copper here; tell him to let the other police know to encourage visitors gently to leave and reduce stress on the town. Let Snake keep helping if he wants, even if he is civilian. In the meantime, I have to go distract Loki."

"Isn't he trying to fight you, with bending the rules?" I asked.

Einziel nodded. "Yes, I'm pretty sure that's on his mind. But if I don't go, he might try attacking others to provoke me. I'll be able to handle him until Verdant stabilizes and makes sure that the rules are enforced."

"Ein, be careful out there," Booker said, without his usual stammering.

"I will." He then left the station.

"Oh, I hope he is," Booker said, worried. "Ein was the first person to take me seriously for long, and be patient with my, um, shyness. He's the best, but then if he gets defeated, well..."

Before long, Dora joined us in the police station. Snake had sent her our way to help Booker keep me alert. Once the first train had left with full cars, I started to feel better. That made me think that I might be able to correct the problems going on. Loki's antics were going against the rules and schedule of Animal Crossing, but apparently Verdant could correct some of that naturally if there wasn't so much going on. To help, I tried to think of keeping the rules intact: no violent actions, weapons can't do damage, bees only sting when provoked, the flower petals only fall during one week in spring.

"They're like, um, rules of how things work, physics I think," Booker said when I ended up talking about the rules of the realm. "Some are weak, like the warping which can only be done with special methods. They, um, aren't normally taught to civilians, so I don't know how Snake does it, especially into a building like this."

"The police station isn't usually locked," Dora said. "He can't enter locked buildings that way, can he?"

Booker shook his head. "That's against the rules, can't enter a locked building unless you own a key. Well, you could get past a lock, but that's in case of emergencies and will get someone in trouble otherwise. Some rules can't be broken absolutely, because they govern how things work. Others can be broken, but are that way because they're needed to teach us and remind us to be good people. The ones that can't be broke are that way to keep us safe."

Another train whistled as it started to leave, backing up to avoid the accident scene. Once it was gone, I felt like I was seeing double for a moment, feeling a strong sense of concern, weariness, and confusion at once. I drank the last of my coffee, then set the cup down and rubbed my forehead. Things soon clicked back into place and I knew what was going on. "There's still a few too many people here, but the rules have been recovered to full strength," I said. "We need to send someone to the ocean, not far from the beach. Einziel's in trouble."

"I'll send an alert to one of my buddies down there," the gorilla said, pulling out a device to send the message.

"How do you know that?" Dora asked.

"I don't normally notice my connection to the town itself, but this is different," I said, rubbing my arms. "Verdant feels the pain of an angel and it's become agitated because of it. I can't really tell what's happening down there, but I know Einziel and Loki were fighting over the ocean."

Twenty minutes later, Dora and I left the police station as Rover's train pulled into the train station. The flower petals were still falling, but not as thick as they'd been earlier. The petals were joined by a light rain shower, even though the sun still shone through the light cloud cover. Earlier, the animals had taken the flower swarm in a lighthearted stride, taking advantage of the unique weather. Now the few who were here were much more worried, even scared. They'd brought Einziel up here on a stretcher as he'd been too injured to move on his own.

He was still conscious, alert enough to recognize Jainiel when the hawk angel came off the train and to his side. "I'm going to be fine," Einziel said, mustering the will to keep a calm voice. "He wasn't expecting me to take the offensive, so I wrecked him up good too. But I can't tell where he went once the rules were back in strength."

Jainiel then put his wing over his peer's face. "Then keep quiet and rest now. We'll handle things here."

"But the trains," Einziel said.

"Don't worry about it, boss," Rover said. "I took care of things; nobody's hurt too bad and they'll get to the next town shortly. Right now, I've got to get you to Chime City in one piece, so don't be causing me trouble."

Einziel laughed briefly, but then cringed in pain. Jainiel waved his wing over him, causing the cat angel to fall asleep. With that, Rover and one of the monkey engineers took the stretcher onto the train. They didn't even wait for anyone else, just closed up their doors quickly and hurried off to the city. Jainiel stayed behind.

"We'll need to continue getting people out of town before we can clear up the weather," the hawk angel told me. "I'll see to correcting what damage I can. Nadia, you should go home. You won't be able to rest with the town in its current state, but do whatever keeps you calm and relaxed. That will help reduce the lingering effects of this attack."

I nodded. "I'll do that, then. Dora, do you mind sticking with me a little longer?"

The mouse smiled up at me. "I'll be happy to. Come on, we can talk about baking or reading or walking, whatever you want."

Monday, May 27

I had a breakfast of waffles and jam while I watched the news on TV. I felt like things were right again, but also felt nervous still. Given what happened, I wasn't the only one who was shocked. It was the major story on the news, the first report they had. "Yesterday, a series of strange events had tragic consequences in the town of Verdant, where they were holding an open flower festival weekend. Loki had compromised the town's security by confusing reports within the train service and the police force about how many visitors were in town. More people were allowed in than was planned for, leading to the town's structure to become greatly weakened.

"Thanks to the actions of the town's anchor Nadia as well as several other alert citizens, Verdant's structure did not suffer a breakdown or an invasion of mist. However, it was stressed enough that the authority of the realm's rules was broken for about twenty minutes, during which Loki could have attacked citizens directly. Instead, Einziel drew Loki away from the crowds. Their battle left both badly injured.

"The Chime City hospital reports that Einziel's wounds have started healing, but that he will be weakened while he recovers. The angel is being kept in the hospital's care, with limited visitors. According to the most recent reports, the structural integrity of Verdant and neighboring towns has been restored to full. However, it is unknown where Loki is at this time. People are still advised to steer clear of him; he will be just as dangerous while injured."

Maybe even more so, since if anyone disturbed him at this time, Loki would likely seek them out for revenge when he was well. After I finished eating, I put the dishes in the dishwasher and left the house to walk around town. There were still a great many flower petals on the ground, but the weather was normal and sunny again. But while I was pushing the flower petals around with my feet, I noticed a distinct lack of green on the ground. Many of the gardens I saw on my walk had only taken a little damage from the traffic, but the grass seemed to have suffered greatly. There was very little of it left.

I went into town hall to speak with Tortimer about it. Helen was in talking with him; the lizard smiled and waved to me as I came into the office. "Good morning, sprout!" Tortimer said cheerily. "How're you feeling today?"

"Better than yesterday, although I still feel a little unsettled and jittery," I said, taking the seat offered. "I hope I'm not interrupting you, but I noticed on my morning walk that there isn't a lot of grass around."

Tortimer nodded slowly. "Yes, I saw that too from my windows. Foot traffic does erode the grass, but most of the time it grows back fast enough that you don't notice. I expected to lose some of it, although it seems rather severe from what I saw."

"I could look up the numbers, but from the fatigued feel of the atmosphere, I think the grass took a bigger hit than the overcrowding could do," Helen said.

"Is there grass seed and fertilizer we can buy to restore it?" I asked.

From the look on his face, I could tell that this wasn't going to be easy. "Yes, but it's in such low demand that there isn't much of the commercial seeds produced. The first grasses grown that way tend to be delicate before they establish themselves. We'd have to be careful to stick to established paths for the first couple of months."

"Do we have the funds to do that?" I asked, giving a glance at Helen. "We were focusing on getting the library."

"Yes, we were just discussing that," Tortimer said.

Helen fiddled with some bracelets on her arms. "We did really well in gathering funds this weekend. With the donations and profits, plus a little more, we could build a library and directly upgrade it twice, which is just fantastic, far more than I thought. But then, the town environment is important too. Leaving the grasses in this state will have a negative effect on those who live and visit here. Instead, we could build the library with just one upgrade level... would that be enough to start a seeding program to revitalize the grass?"

"Let me check here," Tortimer said, taking a calculator on the desk and punching in numbers. After comparing it with his notes and a book he had me check, he nodded. "We should be able to just manage that with the current enrichment funds. Okay, leave it to me and I'll get both public works arranged. Nadia, would you write up a couple of messages for the notice boards? One about how the library funding was successful, and another warning of new rules coming about our grass re-seeding project."

"I can handle that."

We talked for a little while longer, than Helen and I left the old tortoise to take care of his job. She tugged at my sleeves before I left the building, though. "Could you come into the library with me for a sec?" she asked.

"Sure," I said, following her into the other room. "Do you need some help?"

She laughed, turning to me with a warm smile on her face. "No, I can handle things. I just wanted to thank you." She bowed her head. "I was happy enough to be allowed to work on my own in a town library, and then you and all the others here put in a wonderful effort to make a separate library so quickly. It's like a dream come true."

"It is great," I agreed. "You're welcome, although I'm really happy to have a bigger library close by too."

"It is your heart that brought this library into being in the first place," Helen said, taking an item off a shelf. "We still have to wait a few days for the new building, but here's a reward from me. It's a Runic Watch; I saw it on sale with one of the vendors over the weekend and I thought it really suited you."

"Thanks," I said, accepting the gift and turning it to swap with the watch I had on. The Runic Watch had a white band with a gold face. Symbols that I didn't know the meaning of were along the band, but I liked it so much immediately that it didn't matter. "That's really lovely, I love it. Wish I knew what it said."

She immediately took a book from the shelf and opened it. "I had to look it up myself, but I think I've figured it out. It doesn't make a sentence like we use, but from the combination of meanings, it seems to say 'To bring inner peace to my followers'. So it's even more appropriate for you than I first thought. Here, see?" She started pointing out the runes as she found them in the book.

After we talked some more, I excused myself to take care of the notices. And writing thank you notes to those who had donated desserts to the event, and maybe even a get well card for Einziel. I hoped that he would recover quickly, and that things in Verdant would quiet back down, at least for a little while.

Bluebear and Rowan's exchange is based off their personal phrases. Some of them are hard to work in, like Fang's 'cha-chomp'. Bluebear says 'peach' and Rowan says 'mango'. Alice says 'guv'ner'...

And yes, Snake can teleport. Sometimes the animals will do that, most noticeable with the special visitors. Like you'll see Joan outside the shop, go in to get some money, and come out to find that she's across the map. One of the handy features of the Gamecube version is that Copper will tell you where a special visitor is. Although you just have to hunt for your neighbors when you need to find them.