The first novel in the three-part Angel Fable arc.
Jane and her companions decide to enjoy the Shifting World for once, and find themselves fortunate to arrive in time for the Festival of Gad, a joyous time of celebration held every four years in honor of the prime deity of the world. Unfortunately, their vacation plans are burned to ashes when one of the ceremonies is lit aflame under suspicious circumstances.
Worse still, Jane keeps seeing a man dressed not the plain clothes of the Shifting World, but in dark attire worn in our realm. He looks straight at her without blinking, and she has a creeping feeling that he can see more than what's on the surface.
When she's confronted about the truth of his identity, her world gets a little more complicated, and dangerous. Now Jane and her companions must help stop a dark plan to lay waste to the festival, or die trying.
I had a bad habit of running into wild adventures, but this time the adventure was going to come to me.
Right then, though, I was content to lean my head against Caius' arm. That is, until we hit another bump. I winced as my rear left the cart and landed back on the hard boards that made up the rear of a bustling cart. A quick glare at the driver told me he was oblivious to my murderous glances.
Ahead and all around us was a sea of people. Many traveled on foot, but there were others who did as we did and rode on the back of a cart pulled by a creature that looked like a donkey, but without the long ears. Or the tail. Or the long nose. Actually, it looked a little like a giant fink with short front legs and a long, slender tail behind it. The creature had the smushed face of a donkey and the husky build, and pulled the cart with the same ‘grace' as those other beasts of burden.
"You look a little worn," Caius spoke up.
I rubbed my posterior and smiled at him. "I'm fine. We don't have much farther. I hope. . ."
"Not much farther," my grandfather assured me as he studied the people around us. He sat farther up in the box of the cart beside my grandmother. "The crowds appear to be growing thicker."
Bee sat just behind the driver and looked ahead with her wide, innocent smile. "That means we're almost there!"
Caius leaned down and his lips nuzzled against my neck. "You could sit on my lap," he whispered to me.
I snorted and pushed him away. "Right suggestion, wrong place."
We turned a corner on the winding road and the cart slowed down. I looked at what held us up. There was a long line of other carts ahead of us. The thick trees that surrounded the road and the winding nature meant I couldn't see more than fifty feet ahead of us, but it looked like the traffic was backed up well behind the next bend in the road.
The pedestrians passed us, all with smiles like my grandmother. Many bowed their heads to us or gave a lazy salute. "Warm tidings to you!" they shouted at us.
"And to you!" Sage called back.
I kicked my legs to wake them up and studied the myriad of travelers around us. There were people from simple villages dressed in coarse attire, a few junk-covered people from Rubris, and many robed priests of the fire temples of Gad. The wealthiest of the fellow travelers were carried past us in litters hefted by four to eight burly men or stuck in the traffic of the carts.
Sage studied the long line of carts ahead of us. "We may be here for a long while."
"How about we join finish on foot?" Caius suggested. He hopped down before waiting for a reply and opened his arms to me. "We'll probably get there faster."
"Are you guys finally going to tell me where ‘there' is?" I asked them as I let him help me down from the tall cart.
Sage helped my grandmother down and shook his head. "That would ruin the surprise, but I can tell you this particular event only happens once every four years, and we happen to be very lucky to return in time for the event."
"Watch out!" Caius shouted as he grabbed me. He pulled me off the road and into the brush as a carriage sped past.
The large carriage was pulled by four horses and at the helm was a dragon who proudly displayed his icy wings. He gave the whip to the beautiful beasts and they barreled through our fellow travelers. Pedestrians scattered and the cart drivers drove themselves into the ditch to avoid the sharp spikes that stuck out of the wheels. The wild carriage took the corner at high speed and disappeared out of sight. The drivers stood on their boxes and shook their fists at the lunatic driver.
"Are you guys taking me to a race track?" I quipped as Caius still held on to me.
"The over-zealous are not a rare sight during this event," Sage warned me.
I looked up at Caius who grinned back down at me. "You can let go of me now."
He shrugged. "I'm comfortable."
I couldn't hide my smile as I wiggled out of his grasp and joined my grandparents as they joined the throngs of eager pilgrims. Many wore pins in the shape of the sun or fire. After seeing the thirtieth pin I tapped my grandfather on the shoulder.
"This wouldn't have anything to do with Gad, would it?"
He chuckled. "Perhaps."
I winced. "So is it a good idea for us to be here? We didn't exactly leave Inceron on the best of terms."
Caius came up beside me. "Even if some of those monks are here I doubt they'll see us with so many other people around."
"And fighting is outlawed," Bee reminded them.
The crowds grew close as the road narrowed around the corner. The trees did one final pincer movement before they parted to make room for a huge field of grass that was surrounded by the wilderness. The road sloped downward into the large field, so we stopped at the top so I could gawk at the view.
And gawk I did. Stretched before us was a carnival of carnivals. Tents, booths, and tables were set up in dozens of neat columns like soldiers, but more colorful. Dazzling hues of blue, green, purple and many more decorated the spaces as each little booth tried to attract the most visitors, and visitors they had. The wide paths between the booths were packed with visitors as they bartered, bought, and sold their own goods to the steady stream of fellow pedestrians.
Solemn scenes intruded on the bright colors and revelry. Processions of hooded monks walked through the paths, their deep voices chanting words I couldn't understand. Some booths advertised little statues of flames and golden discs, and interested buyers handled them with the utmost of care. Mats were laid out at the intersections and people lay upon them in prayer, all of them facing the rear of the field.
At the far back, decked out in streamers, stood a large temple created in the styles that mixed the temple of Inceron with the cathedral at Perdico. Stone and wood mixed to create a hybrid that had stone walls with wooden supports reaching high into the sky. Pointed Gothic spires were made of heavy stones dragged out of the earth, and stained-glass windows were set in wood frames hewn from thick beams. Nestled among the spires, glistening in the last rays of the setting sun, was a giant golden disc. Emblazoned in the center was a flickering flame.
Sage had a smile on his face as he swept his arm over the area. "Welcome to the Festival of Gad."