Chapter 45: Anticipation
A short chapter, the shortest in quite awhile…
Outside the tent, a crowd had gathered. There were antlered men and feline women, the plant-men and stone-women, and all watched the entrance to Kadmon’s tent with anticipation. The air buzzed with expectation. The time of the ritual was drawing near, and everyone could feel a wild energy electrifying the air. I doubted anyone would notice or even care about the food in this frenetic moment, but the smells of stew and meats drifted through the crowd and quickly drew the attention of those near the back of the crowd.
They swiftly turned and spotted the small feast which had been prepared. The stew was the star of the meal and it had taken its place in the center of the main table. It was not unaccompanied. Leftovers from the previous meal had been re-plated and presented as snacks and finger foods. Vegetables, both raw and steamed, sat on trays scattered around the table. The turkey which had not been added to the stew now sat next to venison and other meats. The smell was heady and rich. As its smell reached tendrils into the tense crowd, more and more turned to follow it. The first few helped themselves to the feast with gusto. As the first few drifted out with full plates, a few more turned their attention from the coming ritual to the food. Slowly, the trickle turned into a flood.
Bobbi and I had been tasked with keeping order in the lines and to ensure that messes were kept to a minimum. In the chaos of the crowd, this simple idea proved a hectic task. The next half hour was consumed in a frenzied blur.
Once the frenzy had finally subsided, the tent looked like a disaster zone. Despite our best efforts, it was still a mess. Even with the help of the sisters, we failed to keep order and now witnessed the fallout. Bobbi and I began to move, intending to help clean up. Instead our movements were cut off by the tall woman. “No, you two have done plenty enough, more than you ever needed to. We’ll take care of it, don’t you worry.” She smiled brightly. “Go. Take some food. Kadmon will speak to the camp soon, and then everyone will head to the Nexus for the ritual. You don’t want to miss anything, I’m sure.” She smiled and pointed outside the tent. “Besides, your friend has been waiting so patiently for you to be finished.”
I nodded, said a few heartfelt thanks to each of the women. I took a plate, loaded it with food and headed into the crowd. Sure enough, we found Rick waiting outside with a nervous smile.
“Get everything worked out?” I winked at him as I took a large bite from a piece of steamed squash.
“More or less, I guess.” He smiled. “Don’t know if I’ll ever truly be okay, at least until I find out who claimed me and why. I’m okay for now, though.” “Good.” I smiled and glanced to Bobbi, who was inhaling her food like a starved man’s first meal in months. She paused long enough to give me a surprisingly cheery thumbs-up, and then returned to her gorging. I found this immensely heartening and smiled more brightly at both of my companions. I was almost ready to dare claim we were feeling positive again… “So are you both ready for this?”
“As I’ll ever be, I suppose.” Rick glanced down at his hand, where the folded corner of a piece of paper poked out from between his fingers. A silent testament to our impending betrayal.
Bobbi nodded and muttered an affirmative through a mouthful of turkey, before holding up a finger and requesting that I wait. After swallowing, she nodded again and said in the most normal sounding voice I had heard since Paradise, “Ready. Hope it works, though. You know, without killing us all or something.”
I nodded and glance between my companions. Both seemed slightly different than they had been when I saw them only a short hour ago. They seemed almost hopeful and energized, sharing my cautious optimism. It may have been a result of the excitement in the air, or it may have been that they had both finally found some answers to their individual problems that I could not give. Hard to say. It felt good to be with my companions, my friends, without everything being quite so somber. It was a welcome change of pace.
We joined the crowd waiting for Kadmon’s appearance. We stood in relative silence as Bobbi and I quickly finished our meals and returned the dishes to the tent. The crowd seemed less excitable, but no less excited, in its anticipation of his appearance. I curiously scanned the crowd, looking for Claude in the press of altered humanity. I couldn’t help but wonder where he was, and more importantly why it seemed so important to me that he seemed to be absent…