“Ludger, come on, we’re going to be late!” Elle yelled from the living room, where she was sitting and kicking her feet on the sofa with Rollo. Her guardian had been getting ready forever, and she was getting bored waiting around for him. “You can’t be late to your own party! You’ll look stupid!”
A disgruntled noise could be heard through Ludger’s bedroom door, and Elle giggled. It was his first Hallow’s Eve party as president of Spirius, and the group had decided to go absolutely all-out on costumes. It was only fitting that the president have the best group costume there, after all. Even Milla and Muzet were coming back for the evening to be in on it, since Milla had determined that the occasional trip to the human world for a few hours wouldn’t hurt anything. Especially since Jude’s spyrite research was going so well.
Ludger’s door finally opened and he came out, dressed all in white with an eyeless white mask in hand. “How am I supposed to see in this, exactly?”
“You’re not; that’s why it’s on a stick, silly.” Elle hopped up, going over to pull on his vest. “It’s not centered. How are you president when you dress so sloppy?”
“Well, your mandala’s crooked, so there,” Ludger shot back with a smile, reaching to adjust it as well. They were, respectively, the Great Spirit Volt and Prime Spirit Origin. Elle, after seeing the Volt spyrite Jude had finally managed to get to calm down, had been adamant that they all had to dress up as Great Spirits for Hallow’s Eve. Milla and Muzet were going as themselves, and the rest of the group had taken one each.
Rollo meowed lazily from the couch, where he was being surprisingly tolerant of his costume. He was dressed as a globe, with a plush version of Gnome perched on his back. The actual Gnome, when summoned for his opinion, had been nothing but complimentary of the outfit. Ludger went over to pick him up, being careful not to crush the globe, and nodded to the door. “All right, let’s go, since you’re so impatient.”
“I’m not impatient! But the others might leave us behind if we don’t hurry,” Elle pointed out.
Ludger didn’t think so, but he let her lead the way to the elevator and down out of the building. Alvin and Jude were waiting out by the playground, Alvin looking thoroughly amused at Jude’s expense. Elle waved immediately upon seeing them, and Alvin grinned, calling, “Hey, kiddo! Look at you; you look shocking!”
“Alvin!” Jude groaned, and the older man laughed as Elle grinned.
“What? It fits. I still say we should have found her a giant orb to roll around in, though.”
“It would have been funny, but not very convenient. How would we have gotten her through the doors?” Ludger chimed in. He looked over the two’s costumes, smiling. Alvin was dressed in all black, great billowing robes and a hood, with purple streaks on his face and hands. Jude, meanwhile, was mostly white, but had a bird-faced mask and a cape of shimmering, faintly iridescent feathers. They were a perfect Shadow and Aska, though Alvin had laughed for ages when Rowen innocently suggested that Jude be the spirit of Light. Everyone who hadn’t been to that fractured dimension where they’d met a very… affectionate Aska had been thoroughly confused.
“Jude, your cape is so cool!” Elle cried, and it was clear she was second-guessing her desire to be Volt.
“You think so?” He rubbed the back of his head awkwardly, but Ludger nodded in agreement.
“She’s right. All those feathers turned out really well.” It had taken weeks to collect enough, but that was nothing compared to some of the custom requests from their travels. Jude turned vaguely pink at the compliment, patting Elle’s head while being careful not to crush her carefully-spiked wig. It was completely amusing how, despite his increase in confidence as his work continued to advance, he could still get so bashful when praised.
Leia joined them halfway to the Spirius building, dressed in Celsius’s athletic-looking outfit with her hair tinted blue. After checking with Jude to make sure she looked right, they carried on, and Ludger had to smother a laugh when they approached the front of the Spirius building and found Gaius, Rowen, and Elize waiting.
Gaius was dressed as Efreet, and had repurposed some of his armor from that last fight in the Temporal Crossroads the year before. While he didn’t look exactly like the spirit, the real Efreet had declared that he looked “awesome”. Elize, with her green hair, was Sylph, and she saluted them enthusiastically. And Rowen…
There had been a bit of a controversy, since there were only two spirits left when they were all choosing. Ludger had said that Rollo could be Undine, since he was a cat and wouldn’t care, but Rowen had insisted that Gnome was perfect for Rollo and he would take up the water spirit’s mantle in Rollo’s stead. So he stood there proudly in a very close approximation of Undine’s outfit, with the addition of pants in the interest of decency. Elle started giggling the second she saw him, and as soon as they were close enough, he teased, “Shame on you for making fun of an old man for his Hallow’s Eve costume!”
“I can’t believe you’re wearing a dress!” Elle laughed, and Rowen immediately puffed up in mock-affront.
“How dare you. These are the garments of one of the great spirits. I am honored to wear such a thing.”
Ludger glanced at Gaius, who rolled his eyes. “He insisted,” the king said flatly. “I think he enjoys all the reactions.”
“Sounds like Rowen,” came another voice from behind them, and they turned to see Milla and Muzet had finally arrived, in slightly more elaborate outfits than usual but still clearly themselves. Muzet immediately drifted over to begin cooing over Ludger, Jude, and Gaius.
“Look at you~” she teased, pinching Jude’s cheek when she got to him. “The perfect spirit of Light. It suits you so well, you know?” She looked around at the group, practically glowing with excitement. “They all suit you! Even Rollo is perfect. This is wonderful!”
Milla, too, was clearly pleased by how they all looked in their costumes, but a flicker of confusion was still present on her face. “I’m afraid I still don’t quite understand the purpose of this holiday. It’s not simply to dress up in costumes, is it?”
Jude shook his head. “No. Originally, it was a festival to honor spirits. The costumes and colored lanterns and stuff came along gradually.”
“A festival to honor spirits? I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Milla said. “I thought for sure I knew of all the important festivals, because the Four explained them.”
“Not quite like that. It’s not for the great spirits,” Jude explained. He tapped his finger against his temple. “How to explain… It’s to honor the spirits of people we’ve lost. To remember them and celebrate and be happy. To show them that we are still moving forward, despite the loss of them. Obviously it’s been warped a bit over hundreds of years, but at its core, that’s what it’s about.”
Milla smiled. “That is far less silly than I thought. It’s a wonderful idea for a holiday.”
“It predates the Schism, too,” Jude continued enthusiastically. “That’s why it’s mostly the same in Elympios and Rieze Maxia. Although, Elympios has this thing with candy--”
“All right, honors student, we get it. It’s also a good excuse to drink and be merry,” Alvin interrupted, ushering them towards the doors. “Come on, we’re gonna miss half the party standing out here talking the night away. Let’s go!”
With both him and Elle working together, they managed to get everyone into the building and up to the 40th floor, where the festivities were being held. The party was in full swing, and everyone was having a great time. Ludger caught a glimpse of Nova dressed in a slinky cat costume, and Vera as what looked like some kind of sorceress. A group of interns from the research department had found some stilts and come as a bunch of gentlemen monsters, complete with different elemental markings. Even Chancellor Marcia had shown up, done in pale, ghostly makeup, and she found Rowen and Elize’s costumes brilliant.
As the hours waned, Vera appeared at Ludger’s elbow.
“Remember, President Kresnik, you have to lead the toast soon,” she said, and he heaved a long-suffering sigh.
“It’s been months. When are you going to remember to just call me Ludger, Vice-President Vera?” he replied, an undercurrent of amusement in his voice. He’d promoted her as soon as he figured out how to properly make it official, and was absolutely certain the company would collapse without her.
“That wouldn’t be proper, President Ludger,” she replied, not without a hint of a smile of her own. “Go on. People are probably wondering when you’re going to speak.”
He waved her off, grabbing a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and climbing up on one of the benches. “Can everyone hear me?”
Within seconds, the room had given him their full attention. Some part of him still wanted to flinch away from it; six months had not made him any less quiet in his day-to-day life. But he was getting better at this.
“Thank you all for coming. I’m glad that you could all make it, and that you’re having a good time. I’ll keep this brief, but I would like you all to take a moment to recognize everyone we have lost this year. Most importantly,” and the words stung his mouth, but he had to because they didn’t know, “our late CEO, Mr. Bisley Bakur, who left this company in my keeping. Mr. Bakur, I hope I am living up to the faith you put in me.” He lifted his glass. “To Mr. Bakur, and to everyone that has passed on.”
Everyone else raised their glasses, and then the party slowly restarted. Ludger caught snippets of conversations about fallen friends as he hopped down from the bench, but mostly he was looking for Elle. He finally caught sight of her and made his way through the crowd towards her, picking up two cups of punch along the way. When he reached her, he caught her hand, tugging gently in a gesture to follow.
“Where are we going?” she asked, sparing a brief glance for Rollo, who was being fawned over by some of the secretaries.
Ludger led her into his office, where it was quiet, and shut the door before handing her a cup of punch. “That’s not who I wanted to toast to,” he said quietly, and she took the cup with a small nod.
“Glasses guy...right?” she asked.
“Right.” He lifted his cup. “To Julius, who died so we could build a future. To Milla, who wanted you to live, just like I did.” He looked right into Elle’s eyes, and finished, “And to your father. Whatever he did, he just wanted you to be happy.”
Elle smiled, though it wobbled a bit. “Yeah. To Julius… And Milla… And… Daddy… Because I wouldn’t have met you if it wasn’t for Daddy.” She moved her cup to bump against Ludger’s, and both took a drink of punch. Then Elle set her cup aside and hugged him tightly. “I’m glad I’m here, Ludger.”
Ludger smiled. “I’m glad you’re here too.” He hugged her back, just as tight, and said fondly, “Happy Hallow’s Eve, Elle.”
They would have to rejoin the party eventually, but for now, everything was good.