Lantern kites of brilliant colors lit up the distant sky as Oliana wondered whether she had gone limp or was paralyzed by her shock. Either way, Keon’s grasp was inescapable. And he wouldn’t stop kissing her. Cheers sounded through the cold air as the wooden wolf crackled in flames.
The mysterious bearer of the approaching torch finally rounded the corner, a city guard. When he saw the couple otherwise engaged, he addressed them, but they paid him no heed.
“Hey you! Look, I understand, the festival is romantic,” he trod closer. “But you two need to lea-- oh, forget about it. Not doing any harm,” he grumbled to himself as he sauntered off into the darkness.
A small eternity passed before Keon finally unlocked his lips from Oliana’s and stepped back. For a moment, the two stood in silence and looked at each other with relief. Then Oliana’s visage darkened like a storm cloud as she walked up to Keon, whose eyes widened before she slammed her knee between his legs. He fell to his knees and struggled to breath for the pain, his hand gripping and ungripping the dried grass on the ground beneath him.
While he was yet writhing, Oliana scolded him. “You galavanting scoundrel! Honestly Keon, your mother may not have had the chance to teach you how to treat a lady, but I’ll gladly take what remains of your manhood if you dare try that again.”
After catching his breath somewhat, Keon was able to reply, rolling onto his back. “I might have been better off handling the situation had you been a man; I’d have punched you for a diversion instead. You would have put up a good fight, I think,” his voice raised a pitch at the end of his statement. "But at least men respect each others' appendages." He took another moment to recuperate.
"So the guards don’t take part in the festivities. Who knew?” he laughed cynically. “Let’s get back to it, then.” He raised himself gingerly and picked up his burlap sack.
The torch-bearing guard had nearly completed his search through the vending stalls and nearby tents when he was met with a stone to the back of his head. Merenia crept out from the shadows and checked to see that his consciousness had flown before picking up the torch that had fallen to the side. Humming methodically to herself, she hobbled over to her tent and ignited it. She had already packed her valuables, including her precious orb, in a pack slung around her shoulder. Once she was certain the ravenous flames would continue to feast upon the encampments, she hurried over to one of the castle’s main exits. A horse and carriage were awaiting her outside to whisk her away safely to Eirethstead’s capital city.
Being stationed at the opposing end of the stalls, and frantically collecting as many valuable wares as possible, Oliana and Keon failed to notice the distant glow of fire creeping toward them. Any sound or smell they gathered of it was dismissed immediately as a product of the regular festivities. Upon passing a clothing stall, Oliana browsed the vestures for items that might fit her shapeshifting companions.
“What are you doing?” Keon asked, glancing back at her.
“Dechar has nothing to wear, and Ylva is in rags. If I’m going to steal, I might as well do it with others in mind.”
“I won’t argue with that reasoning,” Keon smiled.
Oliana grabbed a blue, silky, regal shirt for Dechar and some sturdy trousers. For Ylva, she found a flowing, lilac-tinted dress fastened under the bust with a wide, dark leather belt. Awfully haughty, she thought, but as Keon had so aptly stated, these stalls sold no ordinary goods on a night like tonight.
They continued to stuff their bags until they realized almost simultaneously that the whirring and crackling of flames was entirely too loud to be coming from afar.
“The paintings!” Keon cried, running toward the orange glimmer he now spotted; it lay perhaps an eighth of a mile away and around a bend.
“Paintings?” Oliana pursued him. “What are you doing?” she demanded.
“Relax, I’m just going to save some paintings before they’re destroyed. They’re some of the most valuable items here, and they may burn as we speak!”
“Stop! It’s not worth it, it could be dangerous!” she insisted, but Keon was already falling out of earshot.
At first, she tried to ignore his big-headedness. He probably knows what he’s doing, anyway, she speculated. But the more rationalizing she did, the worse an idea it seemed to leave him unattended. What if he gets hurt, and Orlo doesn’t let Dechar free? she wondered. What if he doesn’t make it-- she physically shook the thought from her head and bolted toward the ever-spreading blaze.
It was worse than she had envisioned. The caustic tongues of the inferno had already swallowed five stalls. Oliana watched as Keon fumbled near the edge of a half-scorched booth and as a heavy, blackened plank fell onto his head, knocking him out cold.