“This,” Lera Casterian muttered, “is ridiculous.”
Ostentatiousness defined the home of Owzer. The Esperian expatriate, who left the Esper Union when the Leviathan War began, had turned his fortune into making a showpiece for Web culture. The grand ballroom’s design mimicked the famous Opera House in Esper, but the walls had been more thoroughly gilded. Tables placed throughout held artfully arranged displays of food, from Eblanese sushi to El Nidan street tacos. There were also statues, relics, and other marks of fabulous wealth.
It all glittered. It glittered in a way that hurt Lera’s eyes. She saw the same look in Caldus Agaro’s eyes. He seemed to be wincing. Only Teddy Halberg did not seem bothered, and he started walking into the party.
The finest of Web’s high society turned out. Tuxedos, dresses, uniforms, and occasional art pieces that doubled as clothing twirled under the chandeliers and constant glitter of the gilded halls. The stage at the end of the room was empty, but the drawn curtains held promise of some ghastly expensive auction that would be occurring later in the evening. They had an hour of mingling to get through.
She caught her charge taking off towards the party, with nary a thought for the way his two guardians stood out. The boy asked for Lera and Cal to wear their armor, complete with their ornate greatcoats. Already, the two were receiving enough looks to make them both stop for a moment. Each had their helmet under their arm; Lera had the sleek, draconic visage of an aevis as hers, while Caldus had the horned, snarling helm of a behemoth. The two looked at each other, eyes meeting.
“I take it that you want me to look after the boy,” Cal sighed.
“You know me so well!” she answered, with a sweet smile. “I’d like a look around. You’ve been here before, haven’t you?”
His clear blue eyes had that distant look again. Something about this place brought memories back for him, though she didn’t know what. She needed to ask him about that, when they had a moment. He nodded, finally, after a moment’s pause. “I have. Nothing new that I’d like to see here.”
“Great,” Lera said. “Keep an eye on him, would you?”
“All right, all right,” Cal said. He smiled back. “You’ll owe me one for this, Casterian.”
He waved with his gloved-and-gauntleted hand, then hurried after Ted. They were lost in the crowd, after a moment. She watched him walk away, before she turned to look about the room.
One of the art displays caught her eye. A massive, gilded claymore that had careful wirework suspending it over a table. Gold and silver inlays made the blade and crossguard of questionable utility, and gems studded the entire thing. Lera could guess, at a glance, that it was not a particularly useful weapon – but certainly an expensive one. She walked over, then leaned down to look at the placard. Her armor hissed, a little, when she did.
The placard had text engraved onto a gilded plate: “THE FABLED SWORD OF MANA, WIELDED BY THE MANA KNIGHT, TO LIBERATE THE WORLD AND RESTORE THE BALANCE.”
Her eyebrow twitched. “I think someone got ripped off.”
A shuffling to her side drew her attention. She glanced away from the sword, to see that a moogle had approached her. He had a ragged, threadbare green jacket on, worn over a city guard uniform. A scar crossed his cheek and the yellow fur on his bobble had started to go grey at the edges. She blinked, straightened her back, and smiled down at him. He had been staring at her. “Can I help you?”
“You–” He gasped, softly. “No, it couldn’t be her.” He sounded frightened, though there was something grizzled and exhausted to his voice. A veteran, this one, she thought. “No, she died, back on Avalon. But…”
“I’m sorry?” Lera asked. “Do I know you?”
“I–I wish you did, kupo,” the moogle said, his voice breaking with emotion. “I’m sorry. I should be going. Please, enjoy your stay. I didn’t mean to disturb–”
“No, really, it’s quite all right. Do you know me from somewhere?” Lera insisted, to the point of interrupting him. She stepped forward, reaching a hand out, and the old moogle stepped back instinctively. “I’d love to tal–”
The booming voice of an announcer interrupted her. “Welcome, one and all, to the home of Mordecai Owzer, and his Resplendent Hall of the Splendors!” The voice boomed from a thin, mustachioed man on stage, with a microphone and a room full of hidden speakers. Lera straightened up, glancing his way reflexively. “We, the cream of the crop, the wonders of the Web, have gathered here tonight… and shall bid upon some fabulous merchandise!”
She realized her error and looked back at the moogle. He was gone – and though she scanned the crowd, she found no sign of him.
The announcer continued on. “Please, come forward, and get a hand sign to begin your bidding! You will not want to miss our first item, a true rarity, which is–”