The Festival was just starting when Team Nephos reached the frigid Avalodge, stopping for a moment to appreciate it. The massive establishment loomed over them, with a large cliff-like point jutting out above the entrance. Outside, most of the teams were taking part in the main events. Andra drew in a deep breath.
"Ah, finally!" she said as she exhaled, drinking in the atmosphere. "A whole day to relax and enjoy ourselves after all our hard work! This is really awesome!"
"I agree, it's so great to relax after all the stress we've been through lately. I haven't touched my copy of 'Berry Smoothie Recipes for Slowpokes' in weeks!" He grinned, his eyes shining with confidence. "I can't wait to show off my articulation in the story-telling contest today." Andra smiled at her comrade, and if one looked hard enough, they could see a glint in her eye.
"You know, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you're enjoying yourself for once, Aiden."
"Really? I am?" Aiden patted his left cheek, smiling brightly. "Quick, pinch me; this must be a dream!"
"I'll give you some Assurance instead, smart-mouth. How's that?" Both teammates guffawed as they drank in the cheery atmosphere some more. Neither spoke for a little while as they looked at each other, exchanging smiles. "You know," Andra said, breaking the silence, "It's always nice to see you smile, Aiden. You have the brightest smile out of any Pokemon here."
"O-oh, th-thank you!" Aiden's face flushed a light red; when it came to Andra's compliments, he melted like a Vanillite. He had trouble trying to keep his composure. "H-have I t-told you p-pink suits you well? It b-brings out your eyes." Andra giggled, covering her beak with her right wing. "Uhm, A-Andra? Why are y-you..?" Aiden asked, unsure of what to make of her expression. The young Murkrow only giggled harder.
"I'm sorry, Aiden, it's just... I'm not used to compliments from you! You're always so quiet!"
"W-well, n-not all the time! Just most of the time." He clasped his hands behind his back, leaning forward. "But, I mean it. You look really nice today, Andra." Andra's face reddened. Now it was her turn to shy away.
"Th-thank you. You know, I'm so glad we stuck together all this time. If we hadn't found each other in the fog, we may never have made it to Andalusst. Thank you so much, Aiden. You're the best friend I could have ever asked for."
Aiden felt his cheeks burning up. He wanted so badly to say how much she made him happy, but he couldn't find the words. At that moment, an annoyed Absol walked up to them, her stony expression exuding a powerful Pressure. Hanging around her neck was a pendant held by a small red scarf.
"Excuse me," she said with a dull, commanding tone. Team Nephos took one look at her and froze.
"Uh, wh-who are you?" Aiden stuttered, standing his ground. The Absol's eyes narrowed.
"I don't see why I need to tell you my name. I'm meeting someone here, and I'd like for you to allow me to pass. Unless you'd rather continue to be obstacles.." Succumbing to her Pressure, Aiden and Andra moved aside and watched as the Absol strode past them. A bitter chill wrapped around Aiden's body, and Andra's face contorted into an angry look.
"Hmph. Where does she get off threatening people like that? What a jerk," Andra muttered under her breath. "Why do they let people like her around?"
"She's probably a skilled fighter. Not everyone here's a nice person, Andra."
"Yeah, but they could at least try, you know? It doesn't hurt to be nice." Andra sighed. "The guys who punished me for fighting the other night could've been nicer, too." Aiden looked down to his left. Then, as she turned her attention back to Aiden, she froze again, eyes bulging.
"G-g-g-g-g-ghost!!" Eschewing all possible rational senses, she hid behind one of the buckets of water. A voice spoke from behind Aiden.
"O-oh, I'm not a threat, honest! You don't need to hide from me." The small Meowstic found himself staring at a sad-looking Haunter, his face strangely adorable for some reason.
"Ahm, s-sorry, she's not used to Ghosts. She's had some b-bad experiences with them in the fog," Aiden replied, rubbing the back of his head, laughing nervously.
"Oh. I see." He kept his distance. "My name's Hans. I'm part of the Hunter's Guild! It's good to meet new people around here!"
"Agreed. My name's Aiden," he replied, holding out his hand to shake. "So, you're part of the Hunter's Guild, huh? I've always wondered how much different it is from being an Explorer.. Do you guys do more sneaky missions?" Andra still hid behind the bucket, unwilling to come out. A host of paranoid thoughts raced through her mind. He doesn't possess people, does he? Oh God, what if he likes to haunt people instead?!
"So, do you happen to know where my friend Charlotte is?" Hans asked Aiden, the two still affably chatting. "She's an Absol about yea big, is really furry, has a pendant hanging around her neck..." Hans made hand gestures to illustrate his question.
"An Absol? Oh, she passed by us earlier--or should I say, she intimidated us into getting out of her way. Eesh."
"Yeah, that sounds like her, all right." He smiled and shook Aiden's hand. "Thank you, Aiden! Maybe we can talk some more inside the Avalodge--if it's alright with your friend, of course! Right now, I gotta meet up with Charlotte! See ya!" Hans floated off into the icy building. Aiden smiled and put a hand on his waist.
"I certainly will," he said to himself. Andra came out of hiding, shivering from her encounter.
"We are not meeting him and his friend. Period."
Shortly after, Team Nephos made their way to the apple-bobbing event. Several Pokemon eagerly took part in the event. Amongst the contenders were a Wartortle riding a Torkoal to get a height advantage, a Researcher's Guild consisting of a Ducklett and her Flaaffy companion with the former swimming around in the bowl. Aiden and Andra strolled over to a free bucket; the former twitched his left ear, while the latter, eager to start things off, flew onto the edge of the wooden bowl. Several apples, from bright red to green to yellow, floated lazily on the surface.
"Watch this, Aiden!" With a sparkle in her eye and a grin on her face, she dove her head into the cold water, shivering from the icy liquid. She lasted ten seconds before surfacing for air. In her beak was a green apple.
"Hah! Got one!" came her muffled cry of victory before the lime-green apple slipped out from her beak. Aiden's ears lifted, and he caught the apple with his psychic powers. He lightly brought it to Andra, who took it into her beak again, smiling. She gently placed the apple down onto the ground.
"Your turn, Aiden!" He grinned before he walked over to the bucket next, gazing down at his distorted reflection in the bucket of fruit in front of him. Shaking slightly, he drew in a deep breath, then plunged his head into the water. Andra watched with a smug smile on her face, which was quashed when Aiden re-surfaced with a red apple between his teeth. He spat it out, holding it in front of her with a smug grin on his face. "Guess I got one, too."
"Heh, well then, how about you and I try to get eight apples in thirty seconds, tough guy? First one to eight wins, or whoever gets the most apples" Aiden's eyes lit up at her challenge.
"Oh, you are so
gonna eat those words." Aiden propped himself up onto the edge, while Andra flew to an adjacent bucket.
"Oh, and just to make it more interesting," Andra quickly added, "If you lose, you owe me a dance." The psychic cat glanced back at Andra, and bit his lower lip. He turned slightly back to the bucket and started bobbing for as many apples as he could, spitting them out onto the ground as he went. However, the water was so cold, he had to resurface and shake himself off. Time passed by quickly as Aiden spat out his sixth apple, going on seven. Ten, nine, eight... He shook himself off, then went back in. Andra was bobbing for apples, too, determined not to lose.Come on, I can't lose this now!
Six, five, four.. Another apple down. Andra was well on her seventh apple, while he was going on six. He shook himself off, feeling his head swirl.
Three, two, one...
Team Nephos walked into the Avalodge, intent on spending the next part of their day enjoying the drinks. Aiden looked disappointed, while Andra was ecstatic.
"Soooooooo, guess who owes me a daaaaaaaaaance~" the young Murkrow sang. Aiden rolled his eyes.
"Iiii doooo," he sang half-heartedly. They stopped short of the stairway leading into the rest of the bar, gazing at the scene before them. Most of the Avalugg had at least one team sitting at them, while others sat at normal ice tables. Calming piano music filled the air as some of the teams danced to the melody. Aiden was silently thankful know that the bar wasn't heavily-lacquered with icicles.
"What a really beautiful tune!" Andra said, humming along to it. Aiden crossed his arms.
"It's certainly got a quaint atmosphere," he said thoughtfully. The two made their way to a large table, sitting down to relax. Neither one spoke to each other for a while.
"Say, uh, what were you going to tell me outside, Aiden?" The young cat was caught off-guard.
"Oh, it was nothing."
"Didn't seem like nothing." She went closer to him. "C'mon, tell me! What's on your mind? You can tell me anything." Aiden felt like this was a long time coming.Oh man, this is my chance. I'd better not blow it.
He drew in a deep breath, clearing his mind of any distractions. As he opened his mouth to speak--"Oh, there they are!"
Andra felt a frigid chill shoot up her spine, and it wasn't from the Avalodge. She turned around to see Hans and Charlotte walking up to their table--or, floating, in Hans's case.
"Mind if we sit with you?" he asked. "Erm, if you'd like." Andra shivered, staring at both a Ghost-Type she feared and an Absol who looked like she could kill with her gaze alone. Aiden was quick to speak. "Sure! U-uh, no problem!" Hans smiled, and pulled up a chair for Charlotte to sit in. The two Hunters sat across from Team Nephos, with Hans eager to get to know his new acquaintances.
"Let's make this quick," the Absol deadpanned, as she was lukewarm about remaining too much longer. Aiden cleared his throat.
"R-right! S-so, my name is Aiden, and this is my partner Andra. We're Team Nephos, and we've been together for three years. Isn't that right?" The young Murkrow remained on the spot. She couldn't take her eyes off of Hans. Shivering from Charlotte's daunting gaze, the young Meowstic crossed his legs and said, "Uhm.. Anyway, I-I like to read books, and sh-she's a very talented cook. You should t-try one of her soups sometime; it's r-really nice." Charlotte raised an eyebrow at his mentioning of Andra's skill.
"A Murkrow who can cook, hm?" Her matter-of-fact tone echoed dully. "I've not heard of one having such a talent." She half-closed her eyes, shooting skeptical looks toward the frightened bird. "She seems to be staring at my partner an awful lot for someone who's supposedly afraid of Ghost-Types."
"Eee!" Andra backed off, looking down. "I-I'm s-s-sorry! A-ahhhh.. I d-didn't mean anything by it, h-honest!" Hans averted his gaze.
"Maybe this wasn't a good idea," he said. "I'm sorry, guys. I feel awful about all this. We'll just go." He began to float away from the table, smiling at his teammate. "Come on, Charlotte, why don't we dance? They're playing a really cute song."
"Nh, Hans, no. You know I'm not cut out for that. Besides, it feels ridiculous." The grumpy Absol looked nervous.
"Nonsense! It'll be alright! C'mon, it'll be just us!" Hans practically dragged her off to the dance floor, leaving Team Nephos alone. Andra looked guilty.
"I don't feel so good." Aiden looked away.
Soon enough, a slow song began to play. Many teams started to dance to it. Aiden got up from his seat and offered his arm. "Wanna dance?" She looked at him with a tiny smile, and flew onto him. They walked toward the dance floor, joining the others. Andra gazed at her comrade and smiled.
"Your lead, Aiden." He nodded, then started moving his feet. He was surprisingly graceful with his moves as he and Andra moved in time with the rhythm. Aiden never felt happier. He danced with Andra that day, feeling closer to her than ever before. The way she smiled at him as he swayed, her violet eyes filling him with confidence..
He never wanted this dance to end. Everything else was far away. It was only him and his closest friend, together on the icy floor, and nothing else mattered. He finally ended with a single pirouette, with Andra flying around him in the opposite direction, before taking his bow. The lights dimmed, the day marching on. The two stayed close to one another after that.
To them, nothing else mattered.