Chapter 26. It's a Small Outer World After All.
Curiosity Ferry. 4:05 pm.
I heard it so many times today—"Have a wonderful day!"—with the emphasis on "wonder." I heard it from uniformed ride attendants, gift shop workers, people in animal mascot get-ups, and costumed princesses. Have a wonderful day. It seemed to be Wonder Island's motto—its bit of cheerfulness to keep with you all day and take with you even after you leave. Well, you know what? I did. I did have a wonderful day. And it's been so long since I could say that and be sincere about it that I'm just so relieved and grateful.
I went on rides, I saw amazing performances, I got to try some delicious food which I'm sure is very bad for me but I don't care, I got to spend the day surrounded by the laughter of children, and I found Miss Lina and Mister Zelgadis! So, you know, even if I overshot the normal daily budget by a very significant margin, it was all completely worth it. Could I ask for a more wonderful day?
Well… I suppose I could've asked for it to be a little bit longer. I mean, there's plenty of daylight out and we could've stayed at the park until nightfall—had a nice dinner, maybe stayed in one of the hotels in the area (one of which is designed like a fairy-tale castle, if I may point that out). It wouldn't have made that much of a difference in our ability to get back on the trail tomorrow. But Miss Lina just wanted to get off the island as soon as possible, and Mister Zelgadis hasn't been much better about it. He's just standing by the rails of the ferry looking out at the water now. I think he's sulking because he had to wear tights or something?
I guess maybe I could've talked them into staying if I'd been more quick thinking and persuasive about it. Just showing Miss Lina the list of world-class restaurants there would've peeked her interest. I'm sure that if she'd hunkered down for her usual three-hour meal she'd have had time to forget about who changed her clothes and whatever else she's mad about and realize what a magical place Wonder Island is and let us spend the rest of the day there. We'd have gone on the Pirates of the Demon Sea ride, maybe the Haunted Castle, had some funnel cake and been able to call it a day with happy hearts.
…Though… now that I think about it, it might be better that Miss Lina was in such a rush to get off the island that she couldn't be sold on its good points. If she found out what great food they have and how much fun the park is, we might've never gotten back on track. She'd run up our food bill like crazy and make up some excuse about what a hard time she's had and how we should extend our vacation on Wonder Island for like… a week. Maybe more.
…Of course, I only wanted to stay a day and mine wasn't an excuse, if you're thinking of pointing the finger back at me on that one. It was a completely reasonable request from a weary and frazzled traveler who just needed a little joy in their life for once! Just one day—just one bright, if frivolous, light to hold in my heart and keep me sane!
Anyway, it was quasi-quest related and it worked out since I found Miss Lina and Mister Zelgadis, so the way I spent my day was completely productive and not "goofing off" at all—no matter what Xellos thinks.
…Don't get me started on Xellos again.
So, anyway, now we have to get going on finding Miss Amelia and Mister Gourry. I'm hopeful that they'll find each other before we do so that the whole thing will be less work. And, I mean, I found Miss Lina and Mister Zelgadis together, so I'm going to just say the chances aren't bad that the other two got sent off to the same place as each other.
But I'm not going to worry about that task right now. That's something to start on tomorrow. For now, I'm just going to sit back and bask in the accomplishment of finding Miss Lina and Mister Gourry and the glow of my brief but rejuvenating vacation.
From the moment I got through the (admittedly, very long) lines to get in and passed through the large gates and into the park itself I could already feel my spirits lifting. I was greeted by the tinkling music of a band playing from a raised platform—piano, bass, trumpet—all belting out with this lively and upbeat tune. The musicians were all wearing mouse costumes with cheery expressions painted onto their faces.
I read about the founding of the place in a book I found at the gift shop (before you ask, yes, I did pick up a souvenir mug. I shouldn't have to answer to anyone for this decision) and the goal apparently was to "create a place for the young and young at heart where dreams come to life." That's a quote from Dalton Wonder, who founded the island some forty years ago.
Bringing dreams to life is certainly something they've managed to pull of very well from what I saw in the short time while I was there. And the really amazing thing is that they've done it without magic! The world tours in the dimensional labyrinth ports achieve their effects through mostly puppetry and wirework with a veritable army of gifted performers and behind-the-scenes experts. The "worlds," which feel so broad and fleshed-out, are really just well-crafted sets populated by marionettes and costumed actors.
All this effort is enough to completely get most young kids to believe that they've traveled to a different world—one where things they never believed could happen are everyday occurrences. Of course, adults and older kids are likely to see through to the (very literal) strings attached or the elaborate clockwork mechanisms or the seams in a costume betraying the ordinary human inside. But that doesn't mean it's not still fun—it just means you have to suspend your disbelief a little bit and you'll still have a good time. I know I did.
…Though… now that I think of it… Miss Lina and Mister Zelgadis were completely taken in without having to suspend their disbelief at all. That's probably why they're so annoyed. Well… one of the reasons.
But I'm not going to dwell on their discontent! I had a great time during my time in the dimensional labyrinth. I'm not totally sure what their experience consisted of—though judging by their outfits it was probably very different from mine. I have no doubt the show the Wonder Island staff put on was excellent and they were only soured for it because they were in the wrong state of mind. I, however… I went into space.
They had me dress up in this bizarre-looking, bulky suit with a bowl over my head that mission control-Pig (Pig is the pig man that runs all the dimensional labyrinth rides and shows up in many different costumes) told me would protect me from the thin air. …I suppose I could've questioned the logic of that, but, then again, I was being given instructions by a pig in a space suit, so it probably wasn't worth arguing about.
The suit had wires attached to it that made it seem like me (and the half dozen other people on the same tour as me) could float. The space backgrounds were really gorgeous too—they almost could make a person believe they were really there. It must be an even more special experience for those non-magic-using humans who can't fly for real but… well, I think I took something special from it too. I can fly, but nobody can fly as high as the scene they were replicating—you'd pass out from lack of oxygen long before you'd make it. Or… well, maybe not "nobody." No mortal, certainly. Maybe Xellos can see a nebula anytime he wants.
…Xellos needs to stop insinuating himself into these journals when he's not even really the main topic.
Anyway… the kids along for the ride enjoyed their little play-fight against Evil Space Lord Pig with their "laser swords" (really some sort of harmless fake with sparkles on it). I wasn't really up for that since it's for the younger bunch (and the "laser swords" reminded me of a very, very poor man's Sword of Light which brought my mind momentarily back to my problems), but I did really enjoy the scenery and all the work that went into making the space-like world feel real.
So… was it a bit cheesy? Yes. Particularly when the penguins came in on jet packs and chided the kids for "interrupting their space exploration" and fired on them with their blasters (which shot harmless foam projectiles). But it was just the kind of forget-the-real-world escapism that I needed.
But the dimensional labyrinth world exploration thing wasn't the only bit of fun I had. I went on Crash Mountain and was very, very glad that I brought a change of clothes because mine were soaked afterward, but it was still great. I'd never been on a rollercoaster before and I guess the idea of it is a little ridiculous—replicating a life-or-death experience for the fun of it. Everyone was screaming on the ride, but no one was really scared. I guess it's just a bit of a safe, controlled adrenaline rush.
I also went to Princess Clarabella's castle (which was beautiful, by the way) and saw the royal quartet play. I even got Princess Clarabella's autograph (you can see it on the inside cover)! …I know she's not a real princess, no need to infantilize me, but the performer playing her was just so graceful that I had to get in line with all the other little girls. Incidentally, a lot of the little girls were wearing diminutive versions of Princess Clarabella's gown. I searched through the gift shops, but I was only ever able to find it in children's sizes. …That just doesn't seem fair.
…And, okay, I know it would not be a practical thing to own right now, but still.
Oh! Speaking of autographs, I got Pig's too. Or… at least, one of the versions of him roaming around the park (I swear, there had to be more than two dozen). It's a bit hard to read because I guess it's difficult to write with that hoof.
And then there was the row of carnival games where I…
Oh, of course. It all comes back to him one way or another.
After lunch I noticed a little game set up in a lone line of booths. It was a simple game. There were three stacked jugs at the far end of the stand and the contestant would have three chances to knock them down with a ball. If all of the jugs get knocked over, the person gets a prize.
It looked like an easy enough feat to accomplish, so I plunked down some money to take my shot. Figuring it would be easy and not wanting to give myself too much of an advantage, I tried to throw gently—to approximately the strength I thought a human would be able to throw. My aim was true—the ball hit the jugs, but it just bounced harmlessly off of them.
With some distance from the situation, I'm starting to suspect there might have been some hijinks going on to ensure that no one was able to get a prize out of the game—like, maybe the bottles were glued together and to the mat or something. But at that moment I just assumed that I'd estimated wrong and thrown way too gently.
With that in mind, for the second try… of course… I amped it up.
I did not get a third try. I did not get a third try because I missed the bottles and instead shot the ball straight out the wooden back of the stand. I'm not sure where it landed.
So… I guess I put a little too much oomph into it.
The man running the game gave me a dirty look as he raced out to retrieve the ball. He really should've had a spare on hand.
But actually, just a few moments after that while I was still looking after the man's retreating figure and feeling a little guilty about my excessive show of force, I heard the sound of the jugs being knocked over and falling to the ground. But it wasn't from the stand I was at—it was from the one next to mine.
"Um… I guess you did it," the man running that stall said in some surprise (which supports my theory that these games are rigged so the player isn't supposed to win). "Go ahead and pick a prize then."
"Hmmm," came the nasally contemplation. "I'll take… that one."
I whipped around. Sure enough, he'd done it. My vacation had been successfully invaded by Xellos.
The first thing I noticed, as I turned around to see him accepting his prize, was that he was recovered. Or… rather, he looked recovered. I suppose he might've still been weakened and just not have shown it, but considering he showed up so out in the open like that, I think it's safe to say he was on the mend.
"Y-you…" I began, barely managing to conjure up the necessary rage. It was confusing to see him again! What is the feeling I'm supposed to be focusing on? Anger because of his betrayal? Disgust or terror because of his violent behavior? Concern because the last time I saw him he was nearly split in two? Happiness at seeing one of the group-members I was separated from again?
"Oh. Filia," he said, as though he'd only just noticed me. He reached over to hand me the prize he'd received—one the Pig dolls, this time in a red swimsuit-like top and wearing bunny ears. "You'll probably appreciate this more than me."
I drew my hand back and let the doll fall to the ground. I wasn't in the mood to be toyed with and particularly not with an actual toy.
"Do you really think you can just show up again and pretend like you didn't backstab anyone at all?" I demanded.
He frowned. "We're still on this?" he asked in disbelief. He wagged his finger at me and shook his head. "You know, Miss Lina was the one who actually got the raw end of that deal—not you. Since she managed to get past it, one would think you could too."
"Well, I'm not Miss Lina!" I reminded him, perhaps a little shrilly.
He gave me a thoughtful look. "That's true," he agreed after a moment. "You're not." It didn't seem like he was saying that like it was a bad thing… just… you know… a regular thing.
I took a deep breath and tried to get it together. "What are you doing here anyway?" I asked him.
He sighed. "After the developments at the pillar of light, I find myself with innumerable tasks that require my attention. And yet I have to take time away from that because you're goofing off while you're supposed to be finding Miss Lina and the others."
I flinched on several levels at this. The first was… alright, maybe the slight amount of guilt I was feeling for the good time I was having while not being at all sure what was happening to the others. But the rest was just annoyance!
"I'm not 'goofing-off!'" I insisted. "I'm searching the islands in order and this just happened to be the next one. And, anyway, I've got a good feeling I'll find the others here."
He arched an eyebrow at me. "And… to search you needed to ride the Ferris wheel?"
I bit my lip—probably betraying uncertainty—but I was quick to rally. "It's the best way to see the whole park! Obviously!"
"Obviously," he returned snarkily.
I'd had about enough. "Anyway, where do you get the right to start overseeing my search?!" I asked. "If you want the others to be found then you should chip in and help me find them! I'm not just some subordinate that you can order around!" I was really working myself up. I think I missed having someone to yell at the past few days. "And I wouldn't take orders from you anyway, you scuzzy, disloyal piece of trash!"
His expression changed and for a minute there was a sense of… dread. I felt like I'd gone too far and I remembered… I remembered his unrestrained, joyful torture of Valgaav. And I actually felt… afraid.
…But he smoothed away the edges of his expression and the moment passed. "You were a lot nicer to me when I was grievously wounded," he noted.
I couldn't respond immediately. I was still so… How could I have forgotten about that aura of menace that Xellos is all too capable of achieving?
"Well, except for the part where you expressed disappointment that Miss Lina didn't burn me alive for my misdeeds," he allowed, giving the matter careful consideration. "But, by and large, nicer."
I was mentally scrambled. Now he was reminding me of what it had been like in those moments where he'd been wounded. It was too sharp an emotional turn to take.
"That's just…" I began, laboring to explain myself, "an automatic reaction to someone being hurt. I'm a priestess, so… you know… it's a training thing."
He bent over to retrieve the bunny-girl Pig doll from the ground. "So you're saying I shouldn't take your attention to heart?" he asked.
"You have no heart," I grumbled, more or less automatically.
"Exactly," he said, sounding rather upbeat in contrast to what he was agreeing to. He placed the doll once again into my hands. "Try to remember that the next time we meet," he advised.
And then he was gone again, leaving only the scantily-clad figurine of a pig behind.
Now, I ask you: what was that about?
I didn't have too much time to think about it then because the man whose ball I'd possibly thrown out of the park entirely was racing back and he looked mad, so I made myself scarce but… seriously…?
I suppose that wasn't the worst encounter with Xellos that I could've had after everything that happened. It left me more confused than any other emotion—and I think "confusion" is the best you can hope for after dealing with Xellos. I got that he wants me to find the others. I suppose that's not so unexpected. He probably wants them around for whatever (likely awful) thing he's cooking up next.
But what about the heartless thing? Was that just a would-be cute comeback? Or was it a legitimate warning? What about the next time we meet? Or is it just a warning about him in general?
It sounds like a "you'd be wise to realize that I don't care about you" statement, but why say it at all? If he doesn't care then why would he care enough to warn me that he doesn't care?
After wrestling with that for a while, I decided to just let it go and enjoy the rest of my day. I took in some more shows and sampled some more food and tried not to think of Xellos.
I didn't really succeed on the tea-cup ride, but can you blame me? It was a little dizzying, but I enjoyed it, you know, I enjoyed it on the basis that I've often been in such a bad mood that I would've wanted a cup of tea big enough that I could ride around in it. Xellos likes tea too, so I couldn't help but feel like he'd appreciate the ride.
Not that I wanted him in my tea cup. Just… you know. I thought of him. That's all.
But, you know, even if he did cross my mind throughout the day, I can at least say something with triumph: I did not let Xellos ruin my day. …And that is much more than I can usually say.
…In fact, in a weird way, this whole thing might have made things a little… better.
Hear me out: I hadn't found Miss Lina and Mister Zelgadis at that point, so I was happy to see any familiar face wondering about. And… I don't know, after that topsy-turvy encounter back in Valgaav's base—hating him, then not even wanting to think of him ever again, being confused about his intentions, and then worrying over him—I guess it was just a relief to have things feel… normal with him again. Even if it was just for those brief moments. Like, he's back to flitting around, being vague and condescending and kind of annoying. The Xellos I'd come to expect.
…But even if it is a bit of a relief, maybe it shouldn't be normal again. We can't just reset to before it all happened. And… what will "next time" bring? More of the same from him? Is that what he's saying?
I can't get too comfortable with the idea of things going back to normal. Things being normal again would mean buying into his routine… setting myself up for disappointment again.
Anyway, finding Miss Lina and Mister Zelgadis at least brings back some normalcy that I don't have to agonize over being happy about. Even if they're a bit… annoyed right now, I'm sure they'll be over it soon. I'm just glad they're both okay.
Remember a long while back, when I was just starting this journey and trying to find Miss Lina for the first time? The advice I got as to how to go about it was: "Follow the explosions." Apparently this is still a very applicable piece of advice.
I was pretty close to the building—one of the dimensional labyrinth hubs—when it blew up, but not close enough to be showered by debris. I pushed my way through the crowd and, sure enough, there was Miss Lina and Mister Zelgadis in the midst of the rubble. Miss Lina was wearing the cutest blue dress with puffed sleeves and a little apron and Mister Zelgadis was dressed up like a prince with a feathered cap and a ruffled collar.
I didn't bother to wonder why they'd blown the place up (it's just sort of Miss Lina's thing after all) or how they'd gotten there in the first place, I just called out to them to make sure they knew I was there too. They seemed very… disoriented by the whole thing.
"I knew it!" I cheered, waving at them. I was happy to be reunited with them and to know that my priestess's intuition was still top notch. "I knew you two were on this island!"
The two of them just responded with a: "Huh?"
I heard a voice in the midst of the debris saying, "I… thought you were guests who knew what was going on…" Out of the debris came one of the Pig mascots. "So then, you really were lost," he said, fussing with the neck line of his costume to take the pig head off. He breathed as the fresh air hit him (I've thought a couple of times today that those costumes must be really hot). "Oh well… I guess this attraction's closed," he said with some disappointment.
"This attraction?!" Miss Lina and Mister Zelgadis repeated to each other in utter befuddlement.
I stepped in to provide some context since it seemed like they had no idea they were even in an amusement park. "This island is the latest and most popular theme park," I explained. "A fantasy island where they take you on wonderful journeys to other worlds."
At that point, one of the park attendants came over to return their regular clothes to them. They seemed too shocked to make much of a response to either him or to me. I was too pleased about finding them to be too undone by the lack of response.
"I'm so glad!" I said, happy that I wouldn't have to travel alone anymore. "I was starting to think I was the only one who made it." I looked over at them and couldn't help but let out a little squeal as I clasped my hands together. "Oh! And those costumes look great on you! Miss Lina looks adorable in that outfit! And Mister Zelgadis looks like a gallant prince who's come to save her! How special!"
You know… seeing them like that makes me think… and I don't really know what went on during their tour of the dimensional labyrinth, but just that set up between the two of them… Well, it's almost like maybe they're falling into the pairs set out by the Temple of Marriage. Like… maybe they've accepted it.
It almost seems easier that way… Easier for them, I mean. They have the luxury of making peace with something like that. Unfortunately, Xellos and I don't have that luxury.
Of course, perhaps I'm letting the fairy-tale set-up of the labyrinth get to me and absolutely no acceptance happened. Maybe I'm just thinking about it that way because of… you know… my problems. My insurmountable problems.
"Still," I went on, plunging through the dead quiet, "the fact that I was able to find you so quickly proves that you should trust me when I make predictions!"
I thought that maybe a: "Good job, Filia! Thanks for tracking us down!" was in order, but Miss Lina disagreed.
"Filia," she said in her dangerous tone, "what are those tickets you're holding there?"
Just like Xellos. Nobody has any respect for how hard I work.
"Umm… well, you see," I tried to explain, unable to keep a little nervousness out of my voice at first, "I said to myself: 'Filia, you deserve a break.' I figured I could have a good time looking for you all. After all the stress I've been under, I almost forgot to have fun."
Her twitching eyebrow said she didn't buy my line of reasoning at all, so I had to go for a last ditch plan to win her good graces. "Oh yes! I have a souvenir for you!"
"A souvenir? For me?!" Miss Lina barely got out through painfully gritted teeth.
"Oh yes!" I confirmed, trying to sound like this had been the plan all along. I reached into my cloak and pulled out the "ig doll that Xellos had won at the arcade booth, handing it to her. "One of those popular little Pig dolls," I said, trying to sell her on how great and not-at-all-last-minute this gift was. "Did you meet him inside? There's the bunny girl one, the tuxedo one, the casino dealer one, the cleaning lady one, the bikini one, and all the others too!" I couldn't help but giggle a little. "Isn't it just the cutest thing? Isn't it?" I asked. I giggled some more—though at least part of it was out of uneasiness since Miss Lina had already blown something up and wasn't looking happy.
But Miss Lina didn't blow anything up. She just threw my re-gifted gift up into the air, screeching: "NO! It is not cute at all!"
She wouldn't even let me go back to retrieve it. You know, just because she turned out not to want it, that doesn't mean that someone else wouldn't.
"And by the way," Miss Lina went on to the square at large, unforgiving rage in her eyes, "who took off my clothes?!"
Nobody would admit to it because they'd already seen what Miss Lina did to their facility. I really thought Miss Lina was going to demand a sacrifice from the park staff (and who knows what she would have done to them), but Mister Zelgadis ended up talking her into just leaving. And so, here we are, on the ferry to another island.
…So, that was my short-lived vacation. And, even though it contained some typical elements like Miss Lina raging and Mister Zelgadis being bitter and non-communicative and Xellos making a surprise appearance… I have to say, it wasn't the worse for it. I'm really glad to be back in a group again. I missed this.