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Eric smiled when he saw Aria, but he was clearly surprised by the group following her.
"I thought you were just bringing a couple of friends," he commented.
Aria gave an embarrassed shrug. "I thought a bigger group would be more fun."
"Of course," he agreed, "The more, the merrier."
As he led the way inside, Aria kept glancing at the merfolk, making sure that none of them attacked the others. Tensions were definitely high, but no one seemed eager to throw the first punch, so she was grateful for that.
Freya walked beside her and spoke softly, "This has the potential to end very badly, you know."
"I know," Aria admitted, "But it could always go well, right?" She offered Freya a smile. "Let's hope for that, shall we?"
Freya couldn't help smiling at her unwavering optimism, despite the dangerous circumstances. "As you wish." She took care of the tickets and they headed inside.
Within the sanctuary, bird flew freely, unaware of their captivity. There were more species than Aria could hope to name, many of them brightly-colored. Some of the birds flew close to the group, giving them curious looks.
"Aria," Eric called.
She turned to see him holding out a small, covered cup.
"It's to feed the birds," he explained.
"Right." Aria was about to open it, but she looked at the merfolk and smiled, wanting to give them the full experience. After a moment of thought, she held it out to Alizarin. "Would you like to try it?"
He took the cup and stared at it, blankly as Aria removed the lid. Within a few seconds, a bird had perched on his shoulder and was leaning towards the nectar in the cup. Alizarin jumped as it landed, causing the bird to fly to a nearby branch.
Aria giggled. "It's alright. They're not going to hurt you. Just hold still and they'll drink from the cup."
"You're sure it's okay?" Sapphira asked as she watched another bird land on her bodyguard. This time, he stayed still and allowed it to drink.
"It's fine," Aria promised, petting the bird, who was too focused on its drink to mind, "It's pretty, isn't it?"
Alizarin stared at the bird as if it might bite him. "It's red."
"Yes, it is," she agreed, looking at his red shirt. She wasn't sure what else to say on the matter. Standing so close to his raised arm in the sunlight, she noticed that there was a faint scar around his wrist. She glanced at the other wrist and found the same thing, but she decided not to comment on it for the time being.
When she turned back, she found Freya handing out cups to the others. Aria noticed a slightly mischievous grin on her friend's face and felt relieved that she was having fun.
Freya offered a cup to Sapphira, but the princess didn't take it immediately, so Freya raised her eyebrows. "You're not scared, are you?"
"Of course not," Sapphira replied, swiping the cup from her hand and ripping the top off. A green bird landed on her arm and began to drink. The princess stared at it in wonder. "Alizarin, look!"
She excitedly grabbed his arm, causing him to flinch as her fingers pressed into his wound. Fortunately, the bird was on his other shoulder and took no notice.
Sapphira pulled her hand away, immediately, looking crestfallen. "I'd forgotten."
"It's fine," he assured her, quickly.
"Most people would apologize," Aria pointed out as she looked at Sapphira.
Alizarin spoke before she could. "She's under no obligation to apologize to me."
Sapphira frowned, but remained silent. Realizing there was nothing more to be said, Aria looked back to the other merfolk, who seemed to focused on the birds to pay attention to the Glemorans.
"This is amazing," Echo commented.
Eric smiled at the group. "First time at an aviary?"
Kai nodded on their behalf and Eric began telling them about the different species of birds they were holding.
Alizarin's bird finished the nectar and he watched as it flew away. Aria offered him a smile, but his expression was as impossible to read as ever.
"You're not going to feed one?" Kai asked.
"Oh, right." She'd been too focused on them to think about herself. She grabbed a cup and peeled off the lid, smiling as a bird landed on her shoulder. "Weren't you the same one as before?" she asked the bird, recognizing it as the one that had alighted on Alizarin.
"The coloring's the same, so maybe," Eric agreed, "I suppose it really likes this stuff."
"Well, nothing wrong with that," Aria commented as she pet it with her free hand, "It really is beautiful, isn't it?"
"Definitely." Eric smiled and gave the bird a little pet before it flew away again. "Well, come on. There are more birds to see." He led the way through the rest of the sanctuary with the unusual group in tow.
The merfolk were, by far, the most fascinated by the birds. They were perfectly happy to listen to all of Eric's lessons about them. Aria kept looking at Alizarin and wondering if he was having a good time, but his expression remained neutral, even as he looked around at all the different birds.