You, dear reader, find yourself sitting in a lovely park in the early summer. There are lots of shady maple and ash trees in this park, an occasional mighty oak here and there, as well as wide grassy areas just perfect for playing catch or frisbee. You're one of many people sitting at the picnic tables, all arranged in rows forming a half circle opening to a particularly large clearing. As you look around at the other tables you see a large number of unfamiliar people, readers like yourself, as well as some surprisingly familiar faces.
While you're wondering if you should maybe warn the auburn haired man in purple spandex about the force of crazed girls about to tackle him en masse or to join in the group effort, a small blue wisp with a round head, shining yellow lights for eyes, and a huge white grin that shows off a couple of fangs floats up above the largest table at the center of the innermost curve. It scowls a bit and glances at the overly long line just now. "Who the hell wrote that? There's hardly any chance to breathe in that run on thing," she grumbles. Then the blue wisp smiles hugely at the gathering.
"Hai, hai!" she calls out, "Mina-san, ohayou gozaimasu~! Watashi wa Sylph desu~!" Suddenly a red plastic disposable cup trailing gold glitter flies from one end of the table Sylph is floating on and hits her on the head. "Ai!" she yelps.
"Well aimed," a red haired man with glasses and a purple-blue coat compliments the person sitting next to him.
This man is smaller, has combed back platinum blond hair, and wears flashy red and black clothes. He ignores his cherry haired neighbor while seething at the Sylph. "Not another word," he grits. "I refuse to listen to you ineptly spout any more exclamations you're not properly instructed in the use thereof, even be it in the name of farce."
At the other end of the table a girl with wavy brown hair and a long braid hanging in front of her right ear snorts. "I see you still have a yard stick up your ass, Nevi," she insults the blond midget.
Angrily the blond retorts, "There may not be anything in my power to do about the foolishness of some of Sylph's creations, but at the very least I will not sit idly by as she plays court jester. Her behavior reflects on us as well; the last trouble I wish for is that readers will mistakenly believe us all to be careless oafs and simpletons."
The man and girl's glares meet from across the table and sparks almost visibly spring up between them. Everyone else seated at the table edge away from the two, who are in fact two of the very reasons why their table is so large.
"Uwaaah!" Sylph wails, throwing herself off of the table entirely and flying to a long haired brunette in a brown militaristic uniform. "Teeear! Nevys is bullying meee!"
The girl is understandably surprised to have the little blue elemental crying into her arms. But anyone sitting close enough to her can see a light blush dust across her cheeks and hear her murmur, "How cute..." Remembering herself, Tear scolds Nevys. "Even if your point is understandable, don't you think you said too much?"
The blond Nevys just looks away from them all with a haughty sounding, "Hnph."
But the drama at Tear's table is still unfolding as Sylph continues to sob away in Tear's arms. Until, that is, a boy with long red hair and a white coat that splits open in the front and back pulls the elemental away and holds her up by the neck.
"What the heck is this thing anyway?" the boy asks, making it sound like an annoyance even having to ask the question. "It's almost as much of a pain as Thing."
The small blue and white creature who sits on the table in front of him sadly goes, "Mieu..." as its long ears droop.
Sitting next to him is a blond man wearing an orange vest who looks embarrassed for his friend. "Luke, you shouldn't say that about the event's hostess!"
"What?" Luke exclaims. "This weird ghost is?"
The blue wisp stops pretending to cry in order to grin wide enough to flash fangs at him while making a double thumbs up.
While the boy shouts angrily and, despite his friends trying to stop him, attempts to throw Sylph to the ground and stamp on her, people at the other tables start to talk amongst themselves.
You can hear the conversation from another fairly close table. "Somehow," a girl with bubblegum pink hair and a flower like dress is saying, "it seems like things have gone a little off topic." She's watching as the Sylph passes harmlessly through Luke's foot and rises up to hover in front of him while making silly faces and sticking her tongue out at him.
"'A little'?" the girl in red next to her questions. "Those idiots haven't been on topic since the start. What's so important that we all got called here for, I'd rather be doing research now," she finishes with an irritated grumble.
"Really?" a man with black hair halfway down his back and black clothes that hang open at the chest asks carelessly. He's smirking as Luke makes a grab at the blue ghost thing and ends up falling through her. "I think this seems more interesting than staying inside reading books all day. It's like dinner and a show, right Repede?" The blue and white dog lying at his feet raises his head and barks as if to agree, somehow doing so without dropping the long ornately designed smoking pipe he's holding in his teeth.
Someone who looks remarkably like the blond man over at Tear and Luke's table except for the light blue uniform and highly polished armor he's wearing shakes his head at the man in black. "Honestly, Yuri, I shouldn't even be surprised that you're enjoying this."
At that moment there's an obnoxious laugh from another table over. You realize it's the table right next to the unsuspecting man in purple the fangirls were about to jump. Everyone at this man's table are looking at the neighboring one with expressions of disgust and disbelief. That table has a man with glorious long red curling hair and a...that man is actually wearing a pink coat!
"I don't really care about what we're supposed to be doing here," he was saying in response to something else you missed. "I just came 'cause I knew it would be a crime to deprive all the beautiful hunnies of the chance to meet the Great Zelos Wilder! Now, my hunnies! There's enough of me to go around for all!" The worst part about this is the guy is actually surrounded by a bunch of women and girls who are hanging on his every word and giggling like crazy.
"Ugh, just great," the girl that wanted to be researching at home instead groans. "There's actually somebody worse than the old man here."
"Now that's just plain unfair," a scruffy looking man in a purple coat whines piteously. "Comparin' me to someone like that."
Just then the purple spandex man stands and announces, "This has gone far enough." Everyone falls silent. Or almost everyone. The girls that are waiting for the right chance to pounce him are squealing excitedly at the sound of his voice. One reaches out to touch his swallowtail cape without him noticing and then promptly faints from dream fulfillment. "Since our Master of Ceremonies is otherwise occupied, we'll have to continue without her."
"So sorry about this," a man in a blue uniform at the table where Luke and Sylph are still caught in a bizarre wrestling match speaks up. He adjusts the glasses he wears and explains, "We had put in a request that the writer use the Post Haircut Edition Luke, but it seems Sylph decided otherwise."
The girl with the wavy hair and braid stands up, looking to be one of the people less bothered by the guy. "Hai, hai, Kratos-san, Jeido-san," she says, directing a smirk at the rigid back of Nevys. "I can't say I know why she brought us all here, or what all her plans were for the day, but I do know what she was planning to have us do first."
Kratos nods, "What would that be?"
"Well, I'm supposed to explain and demonstrate the rules of the game since I'm the only one here who's played it before." The girl with the padawan braid claps her hands together decisively, but suddenly scowls murderously at the air above everyone's heads. "Call my braid that again, and so help me I will use it as a garrote and strangle you," the girl threatens the narrator quite pointlessly. After all, I'm only a voice and you can't really strangle something that doesn't have a neck so it's really-but now she's glaring and fingering that braid of hers and I for one know that if strangling a disembodied voice is possible, Letha the sometimes Lethal will find out so I'm just gonna step back now and-
"Great," the girl who has mysteriously been identified as Letha looks happy again. "So, as I was about to say, before I explain the rules of the game we're gonna need everybody who's participating to form up in pairs. And, since this first game is meant to break the ice so everyone from the different titles can make new friends, you are not allowed to team up with anyone from the same game. Yes," she nods at the red and blue clad boy who's waving his hand in the air, "that includes sequels, Kyle."
"Aw," the blond boy named Kyle lowers his hand. "I wanted dad to be my partner..."
The delicate looking girl in pink sitting next to him tries to comfort the daddy's boy. "That's just the rules for this game, I'm sure you'll have a chance to later!"
Their table had been pushed right up next to a neighboring one, where someone who appears to be an older version of Kyle in blue armor has been looking around at the huge gathering rather than paying attention. "I don't see him, Rutee," he's saying to the peeved and already tired looking girl in red and black, "Do you think he got lost on the way?"
"How should I know?" is her waspish response. "But if I find out he's skipping out to avoid paying back the gald he owes me..."
At Kyle's half of the two tables a young man wearing a highly ineffective mask like an animal's skull sputters indignantly. "What? Since when did I ever owe you-" he cuts off as everyone looks at him in confusion. "Er, no, I mean...it's nothing." Most of them let it go unremarked, but Rutee's making suspicious glances at the masked man.
"Leon!" the bigger version of Kyle is calling out in a loud whisper, oblivious as he's looking around the other tables for a familiar face, "Leeeeon!" The masked man sighs heavily while shaking his head.
You realize that, while you were distracted, Letha was having a brief argument with the redhead in purple-blue coat at her table. "Fine," she's grumbling, defeated. "I'll wait til last to pick my partner, to keep things fair. But I still need Chase to help me demonstrate!"
Redhead nods and leans an elbow on the table. "I see no problem with that. But really, shame on you, my dear, for trying to gloss over Sylph's 'This goes for OCs too' clause. One would almost think we just caught you trying to take of the advantage of the situation to cheat."
"What? Of course not! Don't say stupid things, Alastor!" she laughs nervously, and then clears her throat before announcing, "Alright! Everyone pair up!"
She's met with silence. Or, more exactly, relative silence; Luke is still cussing at Sylph, and there's still the call of "Leon!" coming from that one table. There's a few people who stood up, but many of them have been stopped or are being pulled back into their seats by their friends. The few who aren't just stand by waiting to see if this shows ever gonna get on the road.
The people at Letha's own table are all giving her dubious looks as if they're all asking some version of, "Did you really think that would work?"
"What?" Letha is puzzled. "What's wrong you guys?"
A lot of people speak up at once so it's impossible to match what was said to any specific person.
"'What's wrong?'! You think we'll just go along with something so suspicious?"
"I'm hesitant to go along with this without even knowing what we'll be expected to do."
"Don't feel like it!"
"Isn't there supposed to be food?"
"This is a trick, isn't it? Sylph's planning to make us all look like idiots!"
There was more, but the rest is all in a jumble you can't make out.
"WHAT did you call me?"
"Girly haired pissy boy~!"
"Arrgh! Lemme go! I'm gonna kill that ghost if it's the last thing I do!"
Well, you can make out Luke and Sylph well enough. But when you happen to glance that way you see there's two near identical boys with long red hair in need of anger management who are trying futilely to beat the crap out of the little air elemental. Huh. It's like science class, when you hear about how cells make copies of themselves to reproduce. Not that people could ever do that, that would be ridiculous.
"Alright, alright already!" Letha is holding her hands up and signalling for everyone to calm down. "'Kay, I can totally get where you're all coming from-except for you, Reid, lunch isn't for at least three more hours, how can you actually be hungry already?-But this is Sylph we're talking about."
"If I may," the redhead at her table speaks up again while adjusting the glasses he's wearing. "I should mention that I heard Sylph saying something about prizes earlier. "It was along the lines of, 'I don't feel like picking something those oddballs would all be interested in, so the winner can just have a free wish or whatever'."
Eyes widen as everyone takes the new information in. "Correct me if I'm mistaken," a strange black feline thing actually talks, "But taking into account that Sylph is a writer, and thereby the equivalent of a divinity in this place, then she would be able to grant any wish, no matter how impossible. Am I right?"
"You got it, Tenny-boy," a weirdo with shaggy black spiked hair, ripped black clothes, and an unreassuringly manic grin answers. He's leaning back with muddy shoes propped up on Sylph's main table, having abandoned the bench everyone else is sharing for a chair he found and puffing at a cigarette. Nevys is regarding him with extreme distaste. I am too, not that you can see, cause the little freak is ignoring the fact that no one besides me even knows who he's supposed to be. "Tough, voice chick."
The black panther thing is also annoyed by the guy. "Tenebrae," he corrects precisely.
"Whatevs, Tenny-donkey noise."
While this new fight is brewing everyone else largely ignores it in favor of the new sense of eagerness in the air. "This sounds interesting, I think I'll give it a try." So saying a woman with great confidence in her self image, judging by her bikini lie outfit, and odd feathery indigo antennae things sticking out from behind her pointed ears and down her back stands up.
"It's a good opportunity to experience more of the human culture. I'll join as your partner." A woman in white with the same level of confidence and a magnificent long mane of golden curls stands and joins the antennae girl. Together the gorgeous girls are enough to inspire inferiority complexes in most other women, dammit... "Milla Maxwell," she introduces herself perfunctorily.
"Judith," her new partner reciprocates with a smile. From Judith's table depart three more in search of teammates: the man in black, Yuri if you remember right, with a mischief anticipating grin, the blond in armor throwing wary glances at his friend, and the dog Repede still stubbornly carrying that smoking pipe around.
There's chaos unleashed as more people get up and start searching, the crowd mingling and kicking up a ruckus. You consider getting up and joining in, if nothing else you could talk to some of your favorite characters, when from somewhere in there comes a blood curdling scream of "St-stay back, please!" that you have to wonder about. Maybe second thoughts wouldn't be a bad idea...
"Which hunny wants to play with the Great Zelos Wilder? Men can just go pair with each other, I don't care about them."
"You wish to be my partner? Hmph, you're ten years too early."
"I'm so sorry, it was my fault! Are you alright?"
"Gaah! So many girls!"
"M-me? If you don't think I'll just be in the way..."
Yeah, staying seated is probably the smartest thing right now.
"So you're my partner? Tch, it'll take a miracle to win now."
"What was that?"
"Playing~ playing~ let's all get along~"
"Someone must feed you a ton of sugar..."
"Why did Sylph have to make that stupid rule? I wanted to be with my darling!"
Finally, the crowd is thinning as all the formed pairs relocate to the clearing the tables are arranged next to, as it seems likely Sylph plans for the game to take place there. You can actually match some of the speakers to what's being said now.
"Sorry about this," the blond in the orange vest-you know who, he was acting as Luke's keeper-is saying sheepishly but he looks relieved and grateful. "I can't really pair up with a girl, and I'd feel bad if that made us lose."
"That's alright," says his new partner, the armor wearing blond who looks a lot like him. Not the one who looks like Kyle, just to be clear. "A phobia is nothing to be ashamed of, and the prize isn't what's most important anyway. I'm more worried about everyone following the rules safely."
"MARVELOUS!" a white haired woman with an orange overcoat exclaims. Her nose is practically buried in a book as her eyes whip side to side reading it at super speed. A large, well muscled man, also dressed in orange by coincidence, fixes the glasses about to slide off his nose and points to something on the page.
"This flower blooms under very specific conditions, and then petrifies. Artisans on the Legacy have acquired the skill to turn them into accessories."
"This ship sounds like a perfect treasure trove of discovery! I would love to study it personally!"
Letha is staring at the military man who has taken up position standing next to her, arms folded behind his back. "Really? Jade, you're partnering with me? I didn't expect you'd join in at all."
Light flashes off his own glasses as he replies, "In this situation, the best ally would be the one who's best informed, wouldn't you agree?"
She's still utterly perplexed looking, but blinks and let's it go with a, "Guess that makes sense..."
"Having fun?" The voice next to you comes as a surprise since you never noticed anyone taking that seat. It's even more surprising to see Sylph floating next to you, grinning broadly as ever while the yellow crescents of her eyes glow happily. Someone must have managed to break up the scuffle involving her and the redhaired brat...s.
"This is pretty crazy, Sylph," you say to her. "I mean, now you're even going as far as to pretend you know what I'd actually say if we were having a real conversation."
The floating blue wisp shrugs her shoulders. "Hey, it's bound to be right in some cases. Just be glad I didn't write with you as a screaming yaoi fangirl in mind. No offense if you are, but you can see why that'd be a bad move on my part. Several of the OCs sitting at my table already would be happy enough to kill me without that particular straw breaking the camel's back."
You nod, because we say you did. "I can live with this. But we've been waiting for this to get to the point for awhile now. Do you mind?"
"No prob," Sylph turns and points back to Letha, who's bullied everyone into backing up enough for her and a tall young man in a brown leather duster to be seen clearly by all. "Letha and Chase are gonna explain the rules now."
"Everyone paying attention now?" Letha is, in fact, calling out loudly. "I don't want to have to cover this more than once!" A rumble of affirmatives proved she had the collective attention. She stands straight with her hands on her hips and beams at them. "Great! Now, obviously you can't swap partners after the rules are explained, but I'm saying that now anyway so nobody can try to use that as a loophole to weasel out of it later. And the name of the game iiiis! Birdie in the Tree!"
As one, many people clamor, "WHAT?"
"Letha," the leather coat wearing guy Sylph told you is called Chase looks at the girl. "I know I've been away from Earth for six years, but I'm positive I never heard of a party game like that before."
She waves a hand like it doesn't matter, "No biggie, I would've been surprised if you knew it. I've only ever heard of it once, at the freshman orientation for my college. Sylph heard about it from me and thought it would be hysterical to see these guys play."
Chase grimaces. "You know that spells a recipe for disaster."
"Shut up and just do what I tell you." Letha then raises her voice again. "Right, so the point of this game-hey, fairy people, if none of you are gonna play, at least come and help me show everyone else what's what!" A few of the people at her table stand and drag over a few more very disgruntled people. Letha eyes them curiously. "I've been meaning to ask, where are your wings anyway? Nevys, at least, always has them out when I see him."
A nearly colorless woman with white hair and fluttery clothes smiles absently at her. "It was a little crowded, so I asked them to please keep their wings put away. Now, what would you like us to do?"
Letha grabs Chase by the the hand just long enough to turn him around and push him away from her. "Make a circle, and Chase, you make sure you're directly opposite from me."
"This is a ludicrous waste of-" Nevys starts to splutter, but stops cold when the white woman smiles at him. Fuming, he takes a spot in the circle, and a woman who was all different shades of green down to her hair immediately struck out for the opposite side. Once in place they glared hate across the open space at each other, leading you to guess they didn't want to be any closer than necessary. The crazy guy in black took a spot, and the redhead called Alastor moved across from the white lady at a whispered word from Letha, and a few others who'd been pretty quiet all told take places too.
"SO!" Letha chimes out, "The person on the direct opposite side of the circle from you is your partner!" Nevys and the green woman were nearly struck down by horror. The black manic cackles at them, and Alastor shares a smug grin with him. "Every time in this game when you need to reform the circle, you have to be sure you start on the other side from him or her! Then when the music starts-"
"Music? Oh hell no..." someone somewhere groans.
"Ahem, when the music starts-someone start playing some music already-" A flamboyantly dressed man, with astonishingly long feathers sticking out of his purple hat, sitting at Rutee and Kyle's pushed together tables pulls out a lute and starts playing a simple tune on the strings. "Thank you, so while the music plays everyone in the circle has to all walk-in the same direction!" she hastily throws in before a few fairies almost crash into each other. "Just all walk clockwise already!"
They get themselves sorted out and a mildly exasperated Letha continues. "Right! So keep walking while the music plays, and when the music stops-you can stop playing now, Karyl, thanks again-when the music stops you have to immediately meet your partner in the center of the circle." Letha jogs inside the circle of fairies, who all just stand in place instead. Nevys and the green woman aren't even paying attention any more, having turned away to avoid even looking at each other. Chase is the only one who obediently steps inside.
"Once you've met up with your partner," Letha continues cheerfully, not seeming bothered by the fairies failure to humor her, "one of you has to pick up the other. It doesn't matter how, just as long as one of you isn't touching the ground anymore. The last pair to successfully do this is out for the round-whoop!" Her explanation turned into a startled cry as a grinning Chase swept her legs out from under her and scoops her up in both arms.
"Just showing them one way it's done," he chuckled as the girl flails and squirms around until she fell right back out of his grasp, cursing as she hits the grass.
Somewhere in the crowd of observers a voice crows, "Sweeping gorgeous gals offa their feet? This is my kind of game!" Other muttering voices sound less than pleased, several pairs eying their partner with new skepticism as the problem of size and weight starts to occur to them. The few who had kindly chosen smaller or weak looking partners now look as if they've hit the lottery jackpot. Some paired up males glare death at each other.
Letha's back on her feet, grumbling as she brushes herself off. "Shut it, Brownie Boy. For all of you who are just as disgusted by that as I am, the easier solution is this." So saying, she grabbed Chase by the shoulders and spun him around, commanding him to kneel. Once he was down on one knee she clambers up onto his back and he lifts her into a piggy back hold. From her new perch on his back she calls out, "Another house rule for the game: nobody with angel wings or fairy wings or other flight capabilities is allowed to use them to get them self or their partner off the ground. You hear me Arche? That means you and your broom!"
"Tch, stingy," yet another pinkette girl with puffy pink pants and white shirt pouts and goes to leave her broom back at her table.
"Once a pair has been eliminated," Letha moves along, patting a hand against Chase's head, prompting him to lower her back down to the ground, "everyone forms a circle and the music plays again. Lather, rinse, and repeat, ya get it?"
You turn to Sylph again. "You are a twisted and crazy little imp. You know that right?"
"And I love every minute of it," she tells you, checking a watch that wasn't there on her wrist just a second ago. "Well, seems they've got it well under control, and I've got somewhere else to be. Stories to plot, insanity to write, drawings to battle, you know the schtick. Just between you and me, I don't even know how this day's gonna turn out yet other than a few other events. I'll be back to see how this turns out though." The watch vanishes in a puff of blue smoke and she grins at you again. "Wanna bet on who'll win?"
You scoff at Sylph. "Do you think I'm stupid? You're the writer, you already know what's going to happen."
Sylph just laughs as she fades away like a ghost. "Yah, but I'm sure you have some guesses on what craziness these guys might get up to, even without my help."