With “a million worlds” in the Crystal Empire, there were more than a few major celebrations going on at any particular time. When Fari, Darius and Mel warped into the Pledes system therefor they found they had their choice of over a dozen “full city” sized celebrations.
“How can an entire city have a festival based around frogs?” Darius asked.
“There’s really only one method to discover the answer to that don’t you think?” Mel said.
“Read a local history book?” Fari said.
“No, in fact you’re forbidden from accessing anything on the local spellweb,” Mel said. “The whole point of this trip is to immerse you in what real festivals are like.”
“I thought the whole point of the trip was that Captain Hanq kicked us off the ship for a month and we needed somewhere to go?” Darius asked.
“Are you complaining?” Mel asked.
“They were going to shoot us, I think I can complain a little about that,” Darius said.
“They weren’t going to shoot us,” Mel said. “We never gave them sufficient line of sight to setup the portable ship weapons.”
“I should be comforted by that, but all I can think is that I’m going to have to give Blue Team demerits for it on their next performance review and that somehow seems terribly, terribly unfair,” Darius said.
“You know, I bet if we asked really nicely Captain Hanq would let us back on board the ship,” Fari said. “Especially if some global level catastrophe were to arise.”
“You are not going to spark a global catastrophe to get out of going on vacation,” Mel said.
“But I’m good at those,” Fari said.
“Yes, and that’s the problem,” Mel said. “I’ve spent the last several years dragging you two from one calamity to the next. None of us have had a chance to relax and practice being regular people, so of course we’re terrible at it.”
“Hey, I had a lot of practice being regular people before you came along,” Darius said.
“Yeah, you were so regular that your first thought on finding an injured girl in the woods was to hold her at sword point until a full team of commandos could scramble to back you up,” Mel said.
“I’m never going to live that down am I?” Darius asked.
“Not if you keep blushing like that,” Mel said.
“I’m not sure how going to a festival is going to help me much,” Fari said. “It’s not like I can eat any of the foods or go on any of the rides.”
“That’s true, but neither of those are the best part of going to a festival,” Mel said. “The real reason to go to a festival is for the people-watching.”
“People are different at festivals?” Fari asked. “All I remember is the delicious junk food and then throwing up the delicious junk food on the rides.”
“Ah, festival vomit, a galaxy-wide tradition,” Darius said and winced. “We did that on Hellsreach too.”
“All the more reason to go to something nice and safe like a cultural festival themed around frogs,” Mel said.
“We’re not going to talk her out of this are we?” Fari asked.
“She does have that look in her eye,” Darius said.
“Hey, if you really don’t want to go, I’m sure I can find something else,” Mel said.
“And that’s the look that says she thinks she can find something even worse without too much effort,” Darius said.
“We’ll go! We’ll go!” Fari said.
The Apala City Frog Festival was a tradition dating back hundreds of years. Originally organized in celebration of the local ruling family whose seal featured the frog emblem from their heraldic arms, the festival had managed to outlive them by virtue of the fact that people actually liked the festival while the same could never have been said of the royal family.
Over time the festival had drifted from its origins to completely expunge any mention of the nobles from its celebration. Also, where frogs had been a near mythic creature in the area, and hence suitable for a coat of arms, so many different types had been imported over the years for the festival that Apala City had become, quite legitimately, the “Frog Capital” of the Pledes system. Thanks to that designation people came from far and wide, literally light years away in some cases, to witness the various frog-related spectacles that the town put on as part of its largest tourism (and revenue) generating event.
“Is it even legal for the Space Dock Controllers to speak in ribbits?” Darius asked.
“I really think I should check the spell web to find out more about this festival,” Fari said. “What if there’s some cultural taboo that we’re violating?”
“It’s a major tourism event,” Mel said. “They can’t be too fussy about taboos or no one would come.”
“But seriously? Ribbits?” Darius asked.
“They’re not even ribbits from people either,” Fari said. “It’s all automated messages.”
“The Galactic Common translation spells can handle it though, so it’s not really a big deal is it?” Mel asked.
“Not technically,” Fari said. “But it might be dangerous if we had an accident.”
“Hmmm,” Mel said and rubbed her chin.
“For the record, I am not crashing Captain Hanq’s new space skiff so that you can test their emergency response systems,” Darius said.
“I wasn’t thinking of crashing it,” Mel said. “That would be dangerous.”
“She was going to blow it up,” Fari said.
“How is that not dangerous?” Darius asked.
“Half the time I land on a planet, my ship is shot out from under me,” Mel said. “I was just thinking it might be nice to start a re-entry dive on my own terms for a change.”
“I’ll get the ship down in one piece,” Darius said. “If you want to Space Dive we can do that after we get some of the Frog food and have a rental no one will mind losing.”
“I can’t decide if that’s arguing effectively, or aiding and abetting,” Fari said.
“There’s no reason it can’t be both my little co-conspirators,” Mel said.
“We’re only co-conspirators if we don’t offer to act as material witnesses against you,” Darius said.
“You’d sell me out?” Mel asked.
“What did you think our retirement plan is?” Fari asked.
“I’m going to write a book on you,” Darius said.
“And I’ve got thousands of hours of documentary footage,” Fari said.
“But we’re going to collaborate on the movie,” Darius said.
“That’s where the big money’s at,” Fari said.
“It’s a shame Captain Hanq called dibs on the merchandising rights,” Darius said.
“And Black Team’s got the soundtrack rights,” Fari said.
“Do I get a cut of any of this?” Mel asked.
“Of course,” Darius said.
“10% of net profit,” Fari said.
“Do any of those things ever make a net profit?” Mel asked.
“Sure,” Fari said. “Mostly the one’s that don’t have someone with a 10% clause linked to net profit, but the Auditors assured us it’s all technically legal.”
“You’ve already sold me out to the Imperial Auditors?” Mel asked. “How much are they getting?”
“Only 5%”, Darius said.
“Of the gross,” Fari said.
“You two are so mean!” Mel said.
“Yeah, imagine what kind of lousy Aetherial karma someone would have to be toting around to get stuck with both of us?” Darius said.
The space skiff touched down for a smooth and gentle landing as he finished speaking.
“You were distracting me from the descent?” Mel asked.
“It seemed like the safest play,” Darius said.
“We have a theory that you’re more of an Aetherial caster than you realize,” Fari said.
“Or that you’ve just got the weirdest luck,” Darius said.
“But we are totally going to make a movie about you,” Fari said.
“Because if we don’t someone else is going too,” Darius said.
“As long as I get 10% of the gross, I promise not to bring my weird luck anywhere near the production,” Mel said.
“That’s extortion!” Darius said.
“Which isn’t to say we’re unwilling to negotiate,” Fari said. “10% might be a pretty big savings over the alternative.”
“What I’m curious about is how you’re going to cast for this scene?” Mel asked as she stepped out of the space skiff and looked around.
“For a festival city this does look strangely uninhabited,” Darius said, stepping out after her.
“It’s not exactly empty though,” Fari said.
“Yeah, there’s no people here,” Mel said.
“But there’s plenty of frogs,” Darius said.
“Does any else get the sense that they’re watching us?” Mel asked.
“Yes. Because they are,” Fari said. “Every frog in a hundred yards is turned in this direction.”
“They don’t seem to be attacking us though,” Darius said.
“Of course not,” Mel said. “They’re frogs.”
“Yeah, frogs,” Fari said. “And the fully sapient minds that I’m detecting around us are…covered by an invisibility cloak?”
“That doesn’t seem likely,” Mel said.
“Maybe we should head into the festival area itself and see what the people are like there?” Fari said.
“Or maybe we should get back in the skiff and find another festival to check out? Maybe on another planet, or in another star system even?” Darius suggested.
“I like that idea, it’s a good idea, a brilliant one, I’d even go so far as to say that I love it,” Mel said.
“So, of course, we’re not going to do that,” Darius said.
“Of course,” Mel said.
“We’re going to get turned into frogs aren’t we?” Fari said.
“I could say no, but we all know I’d be lying right?” Mel said.
“Well, at least Fari will be safe,” Darius said.
“I don’t know about that,” Fari said. “There’s definitely something weird in the air here.”
“We should probably hurry then,” Mel said.
“Ribbit,” Fari said. “I mean, right!”
“Fari, why are you appearing as a frog now?” Darius asked.
“Something’s modifying my avatar,” Fari said with a croak in her voice.
“Webbed hands,” Mel said, holding them up for Darius and Fari to see.
“Wait, something is transforming you?” Darius asked. “You? Even with your Void magic?”
“I think I’m transforming myself,” Mel said. “My danger sense is screaming every time I try to block the transformation.”
“We should really get out of here,” Darius said.
“Too late,” Mel said. “I don’t think you can operate the skiff controls like that.”
She was speaking over their telepathic link since between the three of them, none had the capacity for human speech anymore.
“For what it’s worth, you make as cute a frog as you do a boy Darius,” Fari said.
“Thank you,” he said. “I have to say, it’s not as unpleasant as I imagined it would be. I almost feel…”
“Bouncy?” Mel said. “As far as I can tell we still have our regular anima levels.”
“So a human sized portion of Physical anima to run a frog sized body?” Fari said. “You’re even more overcharged than you normally are.”
“How about you?” Mel asked.
“Size and mind have little correlation, so I think I’m basically the same, I just look a bit different,” Fari said.
“Well then, I guess we get to explore the festival in this form,” Darius said.
“There’s got to be an answer there somewhere,” Mel said.
“The big question is whether we can do anything about it as frogs?” Fari asked.
“My martial training may not help so much, but I suspect anyone who thinks we’re just simple frogs is going to be in for a big surprise,” Mel said.
Three hours later they were in the space skiff, blasting out of orbit at the maximum acceleration the craft could handle.
“So, a Frog God,” Darius said. “Didn’t know that was a real thing.”
“Technically it was just a big spirit with a lot of anima,” Fari said. “A really really big spirit.”
“Probably a mistake to kill it like that, but I gotta say, I regret nothing there,” Mel wiped frog slime out of her hair and focused on pouring energy into the skiff’s engines.”
“More discorporated than killed,” Fari said. “Spirits like that are effectively immortal. It’ll be back for the next festival if people keep believing in it.”
“Think the people chasing us are aware of that?” Darius asked.
“Hard to say, I don’t speak ‘Incoherent Rage’ so well,” Mel said.
“To be fair, a lot of the people who transformed back were delighted to be freed,” Fari said.
“I’ve got to admit, it was kind of fun bouncing around like that,” Darius said. “Maybe we can come back next year?”
“Hell no!” Mel and Fari said in unison.
“Where to now then?” Darius asked.
“There’s really only one choice,” Mel said.
“Oh no, oh gods no!” Fari said.
“Yep,” Mel said. “We gotta find another festival.”