Simeon's Song: Part Two
The terror-filled tension that hangs in the air seems to make the sun disappear and force the trees to lean in, smothering. The Gelert Assassin rotates his sword's hilt in his hand agitatedly – threateningly – but Ember still tries her best to remain calm. She doesn't look away from his shadowed honeycomb eyes. She tries as hard as she can to look innocent, but it's virtually impossible in the face of his murderous fury. He's practically snarling at this point. "You deserve to be killed for this trespass," he hisses through clenched teeth. "You or anyone else should not see my customers. Breach of contract. You are nothing but a liability now, little girl."
The fact that he didn't call her by her name only furthers the implication that he isn't going to let her go this time. Assassins aren't supposed to use their targets' names for fear of developing sympathy, after all. Still, Ember has finally found something in his words that she can be honestly snarky about. Her expression becomes genuinely snide. "Oh, sure, Simeon," she says, casually shifting her weight to one hip but still keeping her notebook out in front of her like a shield. "Let me just call up Judge Hog real' quick and tell him, 'Ayo, I just saw a totally already well-known and recognisable assassin make a contract with a random yellow Wocky who I totally know a bunch about. This is big news, I'm tellin' ya. We got 'em this time.' "
She knows from experience that Simeon respects her audacity more than anything, so she hopes the joking and forced confidence goes over well. His expression doesn't change. That's a good sign, though, honestly. It's much better than him getting more irritated. She cocks an eyebrow as she waits for him to respond.
Nothing stirs. Nobody moves. The wind seems to cease its blowing. The sinkholes stop their bubbling. The feathery petpets nesting above calm their rustling. All is dead silent as he stares her down, and she holds her breath. Finally, quickly, Simeon sheathes his blade, but Ember doesn't have time to breathe a sigh of relief before he disappears in another cloud of black smoke, then reappers inches behind her only milliseconds later. He effortlessly reaches over her short frame and snatches the notebook out of her hands as she lets out a disgruntled hey! She spins around, about to lunge at him, desperate to get back the only record of the project she's wasted all day on, but he catches her with a firm hand against her forehead, and she's stopped in her tracks. He holds her at a distance with his arm outstretched while she grabs aimlessly for her book. Even if he wasn't holding her back, she's too short to be able to reach the papers which he's now examining with puzzled eyes. "What's this gibberish?" he asks.
Ember gives up on trying to get her notebook back and instead just passive-aggressively leans all of her weight against his hand with a quiet groan. "Stuff," she says, irritated.
"What kind of stuff?"
"Really lame stuff for my really lame kids."
He tilts his head slightly, examining all the messy notations and markings. "It looks like foreign nonsense to me," he says, though his tone is insincere. "Something for Apsy?" he asks.
Ember sighs. She's relieved that he's at least acknowledging her family by name now. Progress, sort of. Her hope is returning. "No, it's something for my other, somehow even lamer kids," she says.
He squints at the pages, trying to read her awful handwriting. "Are these notes... about me?" he asks, his already-soft tenor lightening to a more offended tone. " 'Confident,' 'intimidating,' and... 'cliché?' Seriously?" He turns his head quickly and gives her a frustrated glare.
Ember can't help but snort and giggle at how genuinely offended he looks. It doesn't help her case at all. "I mean, you weren't supposed to ever see those notes," she says, trying to restrain her annoying laughter. "I mostly said nice things, though!"
He snarls again, then looks back to the papers, shaking his head angrily. His amber eyes scan the pages for a strangely long time, as if he's memorising every chord and notation, then he finally sighs and pulls his hand away from Ember's face quickly. She falls forward with a shrill but short-lived scream, just barely managing to catch herself before she faceplants. Now on the ground, she can see that he's begun to tap his foot condescendingly again. She looks up in the same second that he drops the notebook on top of her. It hits her in the nose just as she was beginning to push herself up. She lets out a squeak of pain, then sits down only half-comfortably, covering her face and trying to soothe the string from the impact. "Gibberish," Simeon repeats angrily. Then, "Is this the only documentation you have of what you witnessed?" he asks, crossing his arms.
Ember shoots him an incredibly annoyed glance as she picks back up the notebook, checks to make sure none of the pages are stained, then stands up clumsily. "No, I totally have a hidden camera, Si," she says.
Ember's attitude has left Simeon too jaded to realise that she's just called him by a nickname. He rolls his eyes, not at all surprised that she isn't being serious, but still annoyed by it. "Just answer the question, Ember," he says, his tone now only half-hostile.
A wave of relief washes over the tiny human as she hears him say her name. Thank Fyora... She's pretty sure that means she's safe – for now. She was about to say something else rude and abrasive, but now, since he's finally calming down, she decides to mirror the exhausted tone. "This is it," she says, pointing to her journal, finally sounding somewhat sobered. "I was honestly just trying to find something interesting to write about, and apparently you're the only thing in this stupidly boring realm that's worth noting."
He rolls his eyes again. "I'm flattered. Really." He sounds only the tiniest bit genuine. "But you do understand how serious this transgression is, correct?" he asks.
Ember suddenly starts to feel bad, worrying that her inconsideration may hurt his reputation. "Yes, sir," she says, sounding unusually sheepish.
"And do you swear on your life that you won't do anything similar again?"
The irony in his question is that "on your life" means, quite literally in this case, that she is swearing in the face of death. It's pretty funny, kinda, sorta, not really... "Yes, sir," she mumbles.
The assassin takes a few more seconds to stare angrily into her now-soft black eyes, searching for any signs of dishonesty, but then he shakes his head and sighs. He doesn't know why he keeps making exceptions for her and her stupid children, but he supposes he still owes them a bit of debt for helping him out with that annoying thief not too long ago. "This is the only warning I am going to give you, Ember," he says, more authoritative than angry, and she breathes a sigh of relief as she hears him say her name again. "You have a nasty habit of sticking your nose where it doesn't belong. Keep that childishness away from me, or you'll be sorry. I didn't earn my reputation by being forgiving."
She's hurt slightly by his words, but she knows it's true. She sighs. "Yes, sir," she says again, looking to her feet and kicking the dirt gently.
"Alright," he says, his voice hushed and seeming distressed, then he takes a few steps back and begins to channel the dark energy required for his teleportation spell once more. "Goodbye, Ember."
She's too embarrassed to look up. "Bye, Si."
She hears him pause, though. Both in his steps and in his casting of the spell. That catches her attention. She lifts her gaze slightly, curious to see if something has happened, right as he begins to speak. "Oh, but, if I may say one more thing..." He turns around as she looks up completely, confused by his sudden change of heart, and by the sudden lightness in his tone. His eyes are still hollow, their apathy intensified by the shadows cast by his hood, but he has a smug grin on his face. "From measures one through sixteen, in the piano line, you should change all instances of the D minor chord to a D major." He pauses as Ember's eyes widen in a genuine shock. His expression softens slightly. "D major to B flat major is my favourite chord progression," he adds quietly.
Ember opens her mouth to say something, but immediately shuts it again when she sees him turn away, taking a few more steps into the shadows and beginning to cast his spell once more. He leaves her to dwell in her disbelief, as was probably his intention. She's completely shocked that he actually understood all the "gibberish" – though, honestly, he seems like an incredibly intelligent person despite his aggressive personality, so she's not sure why she's so surprised. Whatever. She shouldn't overthink it, otherwise her curiosity will drive her mad. She doesn't question his suggestion – he was the inspiration for the piece, after all – but the problem is... she's already forgotten what he had said to do. She got too distracted by her confusion, and the musical side of her mind doesn't work that fast. She kicks herself for being so inept...
But then, she hears him groan softly and angrily from in front of her. She thought he had left, so the sound catches her off guard. Again. She looks up with a start, only to see him covering his face with one hand and shaking his head. "Wait, hold on," he says, sounding incredibly frustrated for seemingly no reason. He turns around to face her again, looking ridiculously embarrassed. "On measures one and nine, get rid of the third and add a nine on top of the D major," he says with a sigh, his words incredibly rushed, clenching his eyes shut for fear of seeing whatever annoying expression is no doubt on Ember's face. "And then... that would mean you move the third from measures five and thirteen up an octave... and those bass and viola lines at the end should be plucked, I think, for effect, and... uh..."
Simeon was right to keep his eyes closed. Ember has been slowly getting the most maliciously snarky grin while he's been rambling. She had started to write down what he was saying at first, but now she's just staring at him with an evil smile. Rather than change what's written on the page, she slowly holds the notebook out to him, hoping he will cave and write the changes in himself.
He does. When he finally opens his eyes to look at her and sees that she's handing him the music, he lets out a melodramatic, frustrated groan to the sky that would rival Ember herself, then quickly storms towards her and snatches the book from her hands. He pulls his pen out of his pocket, then starts angrily cussing under his breath as he writes down all of his corrections.
Ember refuses to let him live this down, but before she can bother him about his secretly knowing music theory, another, more embarrassing realisation of what he's just done hits her. "Wait, wait, hold up," she says, already beginning to laugh, and he absolutely dreads whatever insult is about to come out of her mouth. "Did you just try to do that thing?" she asks through obnoxious giggles.
He expects her to continue, but she doesn't. He sighs as he crosses out a few things, then rewrites them in red. "What 'thing?' " he asks reluctantly.
"That one thing!" Ember laughs louder before beginning her explanation, gesturing theatrically as she speaks. "That thing – the shady-person thing – where you, like, pretend you don't know about the subject that's being discussed, then, at the end of the conversation, you, like, smugly say something that proves you do know, then you, like," – she hushes her voice and pantomimes a cloak billowing in the air – "retreat into the shadows all dramatically, leaving the other person all like, oh em gee." She raises her voice again. "That thing. Don't lie. You were totally trying to do that thing, but you couldn't not make your other suggestions, so the whole illusion was shattered. Don't lie."
His nervous blush is enough for Ember to know she's right, but she still waits for him to respond. He's paused in his writing and is looking away, but he eventually looks back towards her, still keeping his eyes down and shadowed. "I, uh..." He doesn't know what to say.
Ember throws her head back in a grossly exaggerated laugh, her hands on her hips in a triumphant pose. "Ha!" It comes out more like a word than a sound of amusement. "This is exactly why I wrote 'cliché' on the score." He scowls at her, but she continues before he has a chance to retort. "Dude, that's hilarious. You are so predictable."
"Oh, shut up," he snaps, but he's too busy finishing up his edits to make any real threats.
Ember giggles obnoxiously again, but otherwise quiets down to let him finish whatever he's doing. Then, with only a few more seconds spent making some final changes, he confidently hands the notebook back to her. "Try that," he says.
She gladly takes the music from his hands. She may be teasing him about all of this, but she really is ridiculously excited – mostly because now she doesn't have to do all of Sky and Sonikki's homework on her own. She looks over everything he's written, trying to imagine all the changes in her head, humming a few lines softly to herself. Ember had only written the piano and vocal lines, and a few measures for the strings at the end, but Simeon has filled out practically everything with chords. Ember is relieved that he did most of the work for her. Plus, the song looks much better, except for...
"No, no, I liked the ascent in the piano at the end of measure eighteen more than repeating the pattern like you wrote," Ember says, tilting her head and softly singing both versions of the measure to herself.
Simeon hums in thought, then walks over to examine the page again from over her shoulder. "I don't know, it will detract slightly from the vocal line," he says.
"No, no, I don't think so," Ember responds. "Plus, it'll makes the progression smoother..."
Everything falls silent again as the two look over the page in contemplation. Then, seemingly mirroring each other, the two meet eyes, then look back to the paper, then look back to each other, then plop themselves onto the dying grasses and begin to pass the pages back and fourth, quietly discussing the best way to edit the piece.~
A long, long time ago...
There's a small flock of colourful Kateils circling above the tidepools.
It's not really the strangest thing to see here on the southeastern shores of Meridell – the silly petpets are just as adventurous as the pirates who they are often seen with, endlessly exploring the oceans for exciting new lands and experiences, peacefully drifting wherever the wind and waves may take them. They circle happily, occasionally landing on some of the salt-stained rocks to try their luck at snagging some fish for dinner, but mostly staying airborne. Lyf thinks that they probably prefer the weather here in Meridell to that of the islands down south. That's why she moved here, after all.
It's a cool end-of-summer Tuesday, and Lyf sits on the peaceful shores with her toes dug into the warm sands. The sun is only just beginning to set, painting the ocean's waters with beautiful oranges and reds and golds. That's the one thing she misses about the islands – the way the ocean always sparkles against the forever-clear eventide skies. Meridell tends to be foggy for most of the year.
But not today. Today, everything is perfect. It's absolutely the best day for an evening picnic on a firelit shore, nothing but her, some tasty snacks, the soft music from the ukulele she's had since she was a child, and, best of all, her love by her side.
Speaking of... where did that silly Gelert run off to?
Well, she supposes his disappearance is her fault. He hadn't finished packing their dinner before she took off running to the beach, not wanting to miss the sunset. He'll be here soon. He would never leave her alone. This just gives her some more time to put the finishing touches on her little project.
She digs her toes deeper into the sands as she leans forward and grabs her little red notebook and favourite purple pen from off the blanket she sits on. She makes a few notes, writes a few things down, then places the book down again and strums a few delicate chords on her ukulele, humming softly to herself. She makes another change, then hums again. Another change, another hum. The Kateils have moved closer now and have begun to sing along with her, it seems. She smiles at the sound of their gentle cooing and cawing.
One last change, and she's finally satisfied. She breathes a small sigh of relaxation, then begins to copy everything she's written onto a fresh sheet of paper, clean and free of edits. Right as she is finishing putting the last few stems on the last few notes, she hears some delicate footsteps approaching from behind, and she smiles to herself. Perfect timing. She gets an excited fluttering in her stomach as a brightly-smiling spotted Gelert sits down beside her. "I, uh, hope I'm not interrupting anything," he says as he places a picnic basket down by their feet.
She looks up to him with a bright smile. "Nope, of course not."
He begins to unpack a few things from the basket as he continues talking. "I'm sorry it took so long, Lyfling," he says, then leans against her shoulder to push her over playfully. "You have this nasty habit of hiding all of our good cheeses."
She giggles delicately as she sits back up. "Maybe I wanted you to be late," she says.
He gasps, feigning an intense hurt. "What, you wanted to enjoy the beautiful sunset without me?" He crosses his arms and pouts at her theatrically.
She pushes him away with another gentle laugh. "Of course not, silly," she says. "But I wanted to finish this little thing up..."
Nervously, hoping he doesn't think her project is dumb, she slides the notebook she's just finished writing in over to him across the blanket. His eyes light up as he takes it and sees it's music.
The Gelert had never really been one for music until he met this girl. Growing up in the towns and on the farms of Meridell can get pretty boring, as far as the arts are concerned. Music was one of those things mostly reserved for the nobility of the castle, or those dancing poorly in the taverns. But Seilyf brought all the music of the isles with her when she came to this realm, it seems. Everything has been more colourful since then, and mellifluous, and... well, just happy in general. Ever since the two met, and he commented on how lovely her singing and playing was, she has been teaching him all she knows about the art of sound, hoping that sharing the craft would help bring the two of them together.
And today, on the evening of their honeymoon's seventh anniversary, it's proven to be a very successful endeavour.
"Ah!" the Gelert exclaims, smiling his dorky snaggletoothed smile, "you used my favourite chord progression in the beginning!"
"Oh, thank goodness," she says, retuning her instrument quietly. "I worried for a second I had forgotten."
"Ah, you doubt yourself too much, Lyfling," he says passing her back the book, looking to her with sparkling gold eyes. She turns away with a little blush, then takes a deep breath, hoping he doesn't dislike what she's written. "Okay, this is my anniversary gift for you," she says. "You said not to buy you anything this year, so I did this instead. Now you can't complain."
He chuckles. "You got me there," he says, excited – as always – to hear her beautiful voice.
She takes another nervous breath, then begins to sing in her delicate, sparkling mezzo:
For seven years and seven days
We've sat and counted out the waves
That crash upon the shores of Brightvale kingdom
For seven years and seven nights
We've sang 'til we shut out the lights
And dreamed of what tomorrow's light will bring us
But often even we can't fight the destiny
That takes us overseas and leaves us not as we
When journeys lie ahead that we take alone instead
We do sometimes forget we have each other
But even when the Vullards call, or the autumn's dead leaves fall
In Terror Mountain's snow, or the valley down below
Over Mystery Island's waves, or in Tyrannia's dark caves
Sing this song, and we'll never be apart
Sing this song, and we'll never be apart
Sing this song, and we'll never be...
A foreign voice starts to break over the music, and the sound of snapping fingers can be heard growing louder, and louder, and louder... "Hey, hellooo. Are you still with me? Hellooo..."~
Simeon is torn painfully from his daydream as Ember starts flailing her hands in front of his nose, her pleading practically yelling at this point. "Neopia to Simeon! Come in, Simeon!" she says – no, shouts – still waving her arms. He finally looks up towards her with a start, seeming incredibly crushed when he realises where he is and who he's with.
Ember is ridiculously confused when she sees the sudden pang of heartache in his sunken eyes. She hasn't seen that look on his face since back in the Black Knight's Keep. She slowly lowers her hands as the grey Gelert begins to shake his head, as if trying to clear away whatever thoughts were there with the motion. "Uh..." Ember tilts her head as she watches him stretch his back, still seeming distressed. "You alright there, buddy?"
Simeon takes a deep breath, suddenly feeling a bit ill. He hates when this happens... but he forces himself to respond as if nothing is wrong. "Yeah, yeah, sorry," he says. "I, uh... guess I got distracted."
Ember makes a face at him. "You were long gone, dude," she says. "Is... something the matter?"
He shakes his head again, immediately following her question. It only makes him look more panicked. "No, no, I just... remembered something..." he says awkwardly. He sighs sombrely as he meets her now-worried black eyes, then he looks back down, embarrassed that his actions have caused her to grow concerned about him once more. "Nothing too important, though, I guess..." he mutters at the ground.
Ember gets the feeling she knows what's happening, but she doesn't say anything about it. She doesn't want him to get trapped again under that familiar cloud of sorrow, especially since it seems like he's managed to stay out of its shadow for a while now. Luckily, he seems to find his own way out as he looks up into the clear afternoon skies, giving the firmament a bittersweet half-smile. "Well, no, it's definitely important... but not for this." He says this completely to himself, as if Ember isn't there at all. She honestly is glad about that. Then, Simeon takes a deep breath, suddenly seeming better, and stretches his arms casually. "Sorry, what were we talking about?" he asks, his voice conveying a probably-forced sense of calm.
Ember debates whether or not she should reiterate the question, seeing as it caused so much distress the first time... but she's bad at holding her tongue. "I had asked how you knew so much about music, then you, like, disappeared off the face of the planet."
Oh... right... Simeon gets a nervous pain in his chest, but he manages to suppress it quickly. "It's... a long story," he says, hoping that Ember will just let the topic die so he doesn't have to deal with the painful reveries any more.
Somehow, she actually manages to keep quiet. She hates seeing him this upset. She doesn’t want to make whatever it is worse. She purses her lips, then shrugs with her hands in the air. "Well," she says as she slaps her palms down against her thighs, "you'll have to tell me some other time, then."
He's more than relieved that she didn't pry. He looks up to her again, but she's looked back to the notebook, tapping the tip of her pencil against the now far beyond covered pages. "Maybe someday," he responds, but it's mostly a lie.
She's too distracted to look back at him, but she nods a few times in response. At this point, she just wants to hurry up and finish arranging all of their notes and corrections so she can write out a clean score for Sky and Sonikki before dinner. She hums to herself as she realises there's only one thing missing. "Now we just need lyrics," she says, cringing. She hates writing lyrics...
Simeon doesn't respond. He looks over her shoulder at the pages again, but he stays silent.
Ember continues to speak, trying to cover the hush. "I'm absolutely terrible with lyrics," she says, scratching the back of her neck embarrassedly. "I would probably ruin this whole thing if I tried to write anything."
Still, silence. It's starting to really bother her now. She wonders if he's zoned out again, but when she looks up at him to check, she sees that he's still just examining the papers intensely, a determined look on his face and a strange glimmering in his eyes.
She eventually accepts that she isn't going to get him to say anything more, so she starts to close the notebook. "I guess I'll force Sky to come up with something," she mutters, but Simeon grabs her wrist before she can completely close the pages.
"Hold on..." He takes the book from her hands and reads over everything one last time, then gives a slow nod, mostly to himself, pulling out his pen once more. "I think I've got something... but only if you swear that you won't tease," he says.
At first, Ember wonders why he would say such a thing, but then, she thinks she understands. She smiles warmly – genuinely. "I won't. Promise."
"Alright..." He takes a deep breath, then begins to write. "Tell me if this works..."~
Sky is practicing a complicated sonata when Ember finally makes it back to the quiet Market Town home. Sonikki is reading in the corner and doesn't seem to hear the door open. She's too distracted by her fantasy novel and Sky's beautiful playing.
Despite her day actually turning out to be pretty interesting and eventful, Ember still harbours enough frustration with her kids' dumping their homework on her to want to play a little trick on them. She silently tiptoes across the room until she stands directly behind Sky, then slams her hands down on the lowest keys of the piano with all her might, completely destroying the atmosphere, making Sky shriek and fall off of the piano bench in terror. "I have your stupid song," Ember says through sadistic giggles as Sky lies on the floor with his hands covering his face, muttering in frustration at his own pounding heart. Across the room, Sonikki has completely dropped her book and is clutching her chest in terror, trying to calm her thunderous heartbeat.
Ember only continues to laugh as the two of them struggle to regain their composure, then pulls out several copies of freshly-inked sheet music. She sets one copy on the piano's music rack, then another on the music stand that sits beside it. Sonikki's cello is already set up beside the piano – they've been eagerly awaiting Ember's return for most of the evening. "You're welcome, children," Ember says as Sky finally manages to sit up.
Sky shakes his head and flutters his wings for a few seconds, trying to shake away the last few remnants of his fear. He doesn't know why he didn't expect her to do something like this. He supposes he only has himself to blame. He returns to his painfully blasé exterior with just a few flexes of his nimble fingers. "Alright, alright, let's see," he says, pulling back the bench and sitting down silently.
Sonikki, too, though her pulse is only half-steadied, quickly trots over to the piano, pulling up a chair and grabbing her cello.
The two of them scrutinise the scores for a few painfully long minutes, and Ember begins to worry that they aren't satisfied. She doesn't want to have to rewrite things again... especially by herself, since there's no way in Moltara she would ever be able to hunt Simeon down and ask for his help again...
"This... is totally great, Mum," Sky says, looking up to Ember with a pleasant half-smile. Sonikki looks up too, her radiant Cybunny grin completely illuminating the room.
"Oh, thank Fyora," Ember says, throwing her head back melodramatically. "Y'all took so long to comment I thought you were gonna, like, set it all on fire and say it's terrible."
"Oh, hush," Sky says, playing a few scales quickly, trying to get back in the right mindset for performing. Sonikki tunes her cello quietly as her brother continues. "And you didn't write lyrics that stink, for once, too," he says snarkily.
Ember rolls her eyes, internally frustrated because she actually didn't write a single word – it's all Simeon's poetry – but she bites her tongue. She can't tell them that it was him. Breach of contract, or something. "Gee, thanks, oh son of mine," Ember says, giving the Zafara a forced pout.
Sky smiles another half-smile, then looks to the papers that are still in Ember's hands. "You're gonna sing for now, right?" he asks. "Cus Fyora knows I'm not a soprano..."
Ember gives an exaggerated sigh. It's loud enough to sound almost like speaking in of itself. "How did I know you were going to ask?"
"Because you're the only vocalist in this house right now," Sky replies matter-of-factly, knowing that she was only being facetious.
Ember doesn't try to continue with her bad acting. "Sure, sure," she says. "Just give me my E and set the tempo so I don't mess up the pickup."
"Will do," Sky says, then gives her the song's starting note. Ember hums it in response – it's incredible poor practice to do so, but she's too tired to care. Then, after Sky gives a few slow, loud snaps of his fingers to set the tempo, the room fills with the sweet sounds of Simeon's song, and the sun finally disappears behind the shimmering Brightvale oceans.
Once upon a time, in ages past
The rolling hills of Meri Acres
Shielded a girl from the sun
Her joyous heart was full of life
And while the waves crashed upon the shores of Meridell
She painted the sands with her light
And even when Vullards are calling
And even when dead leaves are falling
I'll stay here forever recalling those memories
Singing songs so we'll never be apart