Even though it was Drina’s second time coming to the market, there had been a night and day difference. From silently walking amongst the people to suddenly becoming a celebrity, Drina could hardly get to each stall without being bombarded with fans from the crowd. Some praised her for her work finding the boy, others asked if she could do a reading or reach out to someone from the other side. Hestar did her best to defer many of the requests as politely as possible, her frustration becoming clear as lines began to form behind them as they walked.
Reaching into her bag, Drina pulled out a hood to wrap around her head. Not that it did her much good since the market had already spotted her. How on earth were they going to search for the killer if they had a mass mob following them. Once word got out there would be no chance of them continuing to investigate if they happened to be part of the crowd and learned of their intentions. Drina needed to come up with something quick, they did not have time to waste so flippantly. Spotting a stack of barrels nearby, an idea came to her. Drina was a performer and the crowd sought a performance. Breaking from Hestars side, she climbed ungracefully on top, nearly losing her balance while raising her arms to address the crowd.
“May I have your attention. Your attention, please!”
It was strange to see the street filled with hustle and bustle calm to a dead stop, the people of the town eager for her every word. Whispers even floated around like a wave, the same phrase echoing across the sea of people.
“Is she going to predict another missing person?”
It was strangely uncomfortable how the slow creep of words swarmed to and fro amongst the crowd. Drina swallowed hard, unsure how to deter the mass to leave them be. Taking a deep breath, she offered a warm smile, at least as calming as she could muster. With the crowd's hyperactive attentiveness, it made her feel on edge.
“I know you all are hoping for news of those from the other side. Many had been left unanswered and disheartened by the performance last night. I would love nothing more to help and answer your call.”
There was a brief pause in Drina’s speech, allowing the townsfolk to brighten up. “But alas, I am unable to meet your demands, for the ghosts rest during the daylight. It would drain my energy much faster to try and drag them from their slumber to communicate.”
With a collective cry of disappointment, Drina offered a look of equal emotion of sympathy. One man from the crowd angrily yelled back at her, unaccepting her excuse. “If you can still do it, why not bring a few for now?”
The irritation Drina felt broke across her face as she turned to face the man. The sympathetic melodic voice was now hardened to match her outward frustration.
“How would you like it if I woke you in the dead of night to answer a question? Would you be pleased to answer ‘How are you doing?’ while groggy with sleep?”
The man felt abashed, hiding his face with shame as the crowd turned to scoff at him. It was funny how the once wanting gang of consumers had turned on the man, siding with her as if they had done so the entire time. Without any further comments, they began to disperse. The flow of the market had returned to its natural state as buying and selling commenced. Meanwhile, Hestar stood silently waiting with her arms crossed and a grin from ear to ear. Drina felt the heat on her ears while climbing down from atop of the barrels. Returning to her side, Drina averted her gaze. “What?”
“Nothing.” Hestar dropped her arms behind her back, turning to walk at an even pace with Drina.
“Nothing my foot. You have that look.” Drina knew there was meaning behind that smirk. Was Hestar making fun of her? Had Drina embarrassed herself while addressing the crowd? Hestar slipped her fingers in along Drina’s hand, clasping them gently together. It made Drina’s heart pound while she glanced over.
“Which? The ‘I think you are incredibly clever’ look?”
The combination of her compliment and holding hands created a roadblock in her mind. Her thoughts and mouth had stopped working as Drina argued with herself. Hestar giggled.
“At least your plan worked and we can move around freely. We might need to be a little more careful going forward. You seem to be pretty popular now, it makes a girl like me feel a little threatened.”
Just knowing that Hestar could feel a little jealous made Drina smile. There was no reason for her to feel that way since Drina had no interest in anyone else. If she had felt otherwise, there would have been no reason for her to continue to fight for her life.
“Good thing there are no other girls like you.”
A sudden idea distracted Drina from seeing Hestars reaction, one that gave her confidence. She was the only one who was currently a target, so that would mean if any spirits were after her, then Drina would be able to spot them right away. A small yip beside her made her jump. Completely forgetting about Wiggles, Drina remembered that he would be able to add extra protection. With Hestar close by and a hellhound as her sidekick, they stood a winning chance. For the first time ever, Drina took a deep breath in and released all her guards. With a small breeze, Drina felt the full rush of all the ghosts floating past her unhindered. The entire market was flooded not only with living beings, but ethereal ones too.
Hestar shivered for a moment, breaking Drina’s thoughts with a question. “So… was it true about the ghosts sleeping during the day?”
It was possible that Hestar felt the presence of the spirits through Drina. She had not realized that by holding her hand, it would have seeped into her as well. It was something she would now have to make sure to avoid doing in the future while making contact with someone. Who knows what dangers would befall someone who was not trained to protect themselves with this kind of power, even if it was borrowed.
Offering a mischievous smile, Drina chuckled. “Who needs sleep when they're dead?”
With a small whisper, Drina spoke in her native tongue. “Keep a lookout for any spirits that linger around a specific person.”
The air around the market cooled considerably as they walked among the crowd. Drina glanced over at Hestar a few times to check if she was cold. It seemed something so trivial couldn’t dampen Hestar’s mood as she scanned around for a food cart.
“Ah, this way. I know a good place to ask.”
Taking a sharp turn, Hestar led them off the beaten path and down a small street. “Some of the shops park on the outskirts of town. This one is a truly hidden gem even for long-term residence folk.”
The crowd thinned quickly as they made their way, exposing a small building with a few seats and tables set up. Drina frowned, how could a small business survive so far away from the main strip? Letting go of their hands, Hestar stepped in front of Drina to wave at the owner.
“Hey Alps, got room to spare for two?”
Drina glanced at the two free tables and open chairs that sat at the bar. Only one person was occupying a seat at the bar. Looks like they have plenty of space, she thought to herself. Alps laughed with a great grin upon seeing Hestar. Lifting his arms, he welcomed her while walking around the counter.
“Ah! My favorite customer! And who have you brought along this time?” His eyes widened at the sight of Drina. Face dropping he paused as Hestar patted his shoulder.
“I brought a guest staying at the hostel. Thought I would show her around and introduce the finest food you can taste in the country.”
Nervously Alps chuckled at the compliment. It seemed he was very well aware of who Drina was. No surprise there since word spread like a wild grass fire in this town. Drina crossed her arms, standing a bit behind Hestar with a small smile. “Good to meet you, sir. I am very excited to try your menu.”
Alps nodded, looking between the two of them. “Yes, yes… Come come! It would be my pleasure! Having you eat here will boost our clientele once word gets out!”
He quickly brought them to a table close to the bar, eagerly holding out a chair for Drina to sit. Hestar waited for Drina to be seated before taking the seat beside her. It was a strange experience being treated like such a celebrity. Several spirits began to crowd the other side of the table as Alps stood beside them unknowingly. It was hard to pay attention with all of them blobing around in faint see-through lines and balls of light. Some began to swirl around Alps body and head playfully as he began to list off the dishes available. The choices all sounded delicious, although Drina was only half paying attention. She turned to Hestar who was watching her intently with a smile. “I have no problem eating whatever Hestar decides to choose for us.”
With a spark of joy twinkling in her eyes, Hestar ordered promptly. “We’ll take two orders of the usual then with tea.”
Alps nodded, turning to rush behind the bar where his staff stood eavesdropping as close as they could. He whispered harshly at them to get back to work, bringing the small kitchen within the shop to life. With quick work, the food was prepared in no time and served by a younger woman. With a gentle smile, she placed the food in front of them. It was a rice dish topped with a large quantity of sauce with thinly sliced chicken swimming in it. Along with the dish was a plate of large lettuce leaves. Drina was a little confused by the leaves when Hestar grabbed one with a wink. She held the leaf in her hand and used a spoon to scoop a small portion into the leaf. Wrapping it gently, she used it as a shell to eat it. Drina looked at her own plate, following her example. Mixing the rice and sauce, she scooped a small portion and placed it into her lettuce. It seemed everyone was waiting on bated breath as she took her first bite into it.
Flavors of spices hit her at once and she moaned with delight at the taste. It had been ages since she had eaten something so incredible aside from Lulu’s meals. The workers at the shop were overjoyed as she munched away happily, even Hestar watched her in content, picking at her plate slowly.
“You still eat as if you have never had a meal in your life.” She teased Drina with a smirk.
Licking at her lips, Drina raised a brow towards her. “You live off of dried lizards for months and see how it feels to eat a dish sent from the heavens. This meal is the best I have ever tasted.”
A happy cheer came from the staff as they congratulated each other on such a compliment, allowing them to finish the meal in peace. Only after when Drina leaned back with a sigh did Alps return to the table to speak with them.
“Is there anything else we can help you with today?”
Hestar shook her head. “No, this was amazing as always, Alps. How much do I owe you?”
“Oh, no! Don’t worry about it. On the house.”
Drina frowned at the idea of a free meal. What did she do to earn it? It didn’t sit well with her. “No, please. Let us pay for this meal.”
Alps smiled politely. “It’s alright, I insist!”
Hestar tried to hush Drina as she persisted. “I mean no offence, but I can’t accept a free meal. I have done nothing to earn it. If you won’t accept a coin, may I pay it with a reading instead?” Dropping his jaw at the offer, Drina reached into her satchel for her fan. Hestar grabbed at her arm, briefly stopping her as she whispered. “Are you sure? Won’t this attract attention?”
Drina grinned. “It’s just a reading, not a seance,” facing Alps, she held the fan in front of her, “Which would you like? A reading of your present and future or an answer to a specific question?”