After watching Will try to work the disk for a few minutes, Malek appeared almost as if by magic and brought in a small trail of mechanical servants with him. The hovered around him as he dashed off instructions to adjust Dolly’s replacement for her wheelchair or to check Lydia’s mechanical ears. None of them really knew what to do as he seemed almost to forget they were there sometimes as the servants whirled around him, taking care of small tasks around them. As they were starting to hover off down the hallways they came from, Malek seemed absorbed in his thoughts, whispering to himself. They shifted, uncomfortably.
“So, are we going to be going out like this?” Matt finally said. “I feel a bit underdressed for this party.”
“Oh do forgive me for being rude,” Malek said, coming back to the moment. “There are simply a million things to keep track of on starting night and I always get lost in the details. Forgive me, my friends. As to what you look like, that is somewhat the appeal, you understand. It allows them to see you all honestly. What’s more, a lot of the costuming has quite a history behind it and while I do understand the feeling of being dressed inappropriately, it would be easier for the audience you’ll hold to become offended if it wasn’t worn properly. Trust me, my first few engagements here were disastrously embarrassing. No one was so rude as to be cruel to me for it but I realize how foolish it would have been to pretend that I had such a history here when I was just a newcomer.”
“Is that why some of the outfits that we saw had the kind of beading that I’ve seen in West African regalia?” Lydia asked.
“You are most correct and if it’s who I’m thinking of, that is a fine group of gentlemen. A very fine group indeed and their troupe always has such lovely displays through the Festival Nights. Theirs is a very fascinating history indeed and their garments are filled with incredible stories that I fear would take the better part of the month just to scratch the surface,” Malek smiled. “Now come along. The Ice Garden is almost prepared and my guests are brimming with excitement. Seems the two ladies we saw earlier have spread the word and there are a lot of people anxious to meet a team with a spiderling and a black man from my world.”
“Are they aware that he’s a Buck?” Will said with uncertainty.
“They are aware he’s different and his eyes give that away already,” Malek replied. “I figured that I would allow you all to tell the tale yourselves, as it will go over better with context.”
With that, Malek beckoned them to follow through a hallway none of them had seen before. Dolly initially struggled with the wheelchair but Stuart was able to figure out the mechanics of it and soon they were rolling into a place that felt like it was a completely different world. The lights inside the large hall were pale blue and as they entered on the white marble floor, they noticed the marked difference between the warmth of the sitting room they had been in and this place. Still, it wasn’t uncomfortable and like everything else in the house, it was beautiful. The hall had grand mirrors to the right of them and wide, tall windows to the left. The pillars between hid shadowy alcoves but within, there were more statues and tapestries that would have been incredible to see in the day. The pillars themselves seemed to have threads of a silver glow running through them. Above their heads, there were glass chandeliers with the arms that looked like barren tree branches. They too were hovering like the lanterns before, their soft, cool light dancing in the facets of the glass droplets.
“This seems more like a winter display than an autumn one,” Stuart blurted out before he could stop himself.
“You are absolutely right,” Malek said as he led them. “This is the marking of the end of the season. From here, the cold winds will come and the days are getting very short. This whole festival is to kick off the new season, to bring light to those who need it and to remind ourselves that soon, it will return.”
“So do you celebrate things like Halloween or Christmas here?” Lydia asked, trying not to stop at every tapestry.
“Halloween is not a thing that pervades the culture here,” he replied. “There are little bits and pieces of it. There are tales that people tell of frightening spirits away with lanterns made of fruits and other vegetables but I don’t believe that anywhere around here still does such things. Actually, should you be craving some ghostly tales, here, we have most of those told around the winter celebrations. There are some places that do still celebrate Christmas, yes. That said, throughout Europe, Hanukkah is quite the spectacular event and it’s quite lovely to attend, even if you aren’t Jewish. Where we are here, however, we have some smaller Christmas celebrations that are done for those who still follow those traditions, though they are in the minority. There are some who celebrate Hanukkah and they occasionally invite those who have no one to celebrate their own traditions with to join them so they won’t feel alone. Mostly, however, in this area, there is a much more secularized celebration. We have some very colorful displays that harken back to something like play versions of Christmas stories back in our world. Again, we don’t have the same interest in film and very little in television so the traditions that we do have, some of them are a kind of curious holdover from Victorian times that people just picked up. In other parts of the world, the celebrations are held for communities and some of them are either Christian or Muslim and occasionally others. There is a fraction of Europe that is a very secretive Neo Pagan but they often open their doors on the Solstice. In what was once Canada, the country has been divided and there is section in the north and another in the west that have been divided between individual tribes. They are guarded against strangers and their ways are for their tribes only but they are extremely important in the world trade.”
Malek’s history lesson was interrupted by the door opening at the end of the hall. Kayode stood to wait for them with a bright smile. Malek blushed as he signalled they should make their way closer.
“Malek, my darling, our guests are on the verge of being almost tardy,” Kayode chided with a smile.
“My love, we have plenty of time to get our friends situated before the crowd,” Malek replied, his tone slightly sheepish. “Besides, what would it do to my reputation if I had our entertainment on at a reasonable hour?”
“Always to be the contrarian, my dearest,” Kayode tisked as they approached. When Malek stood in front of him, he smiled and pulled a mask from beneath his cloak and lovingly tied it for his partner. “Come along. Our guests deserve a moment or two to experience this. It’s their first time, after all, and we wouldn’t want to ruin such an event for them.”
“Wise as always, my love,” Malek said. With his mask secured, he turned to the group and smiled. “My guests and my new friends, I welcome you to a sight that not many are privy to and one that we pride ourselves in creating. I welcome you to our beloved Ice Gardens.”
The couple led them to a foyer that looks like a greenhouse, its walls were all shining windows, gleaming in low light. Filled to capacity with beautiful plants and the scent of all the wild flowers around them, the five of them were awe struck as they moved towards a pair of metal doors, the filigree done in art deco style and filled with stained glass. As the double doors opened, what they saw took their breath away as the cold of the air filled around them.