SIXTY NINE

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RAVENNA SIGHED IN relief when she spotted their destination, a small town by the name of Wai, sitting on the horizon. The horses had started to tire out, their tails swishing restlessly back and forth, and she was incredibly anxious to study Caelan's spellbook.

It wasn't long before the trees around them grew sparse, replaced with unusually blue and white flowers. The sun shimmered in the sky above their heads, warmth and light radiating through the air around them. A salty smell lingered within said air, growing stronger with each step taken toward the town. The buildings that appeared in front of them were unlike any she'd seen before, colored a light sandy color. Whatever the walls were constructed of almost appeared to be jagged and rough, though it was hard to tell what exactly it was.

Soon the flowers began to dwindle beside them, succeeded by a variety of buildings. The first building that Ravenna passed shocked her. It sat fairly close to the road, close enough for her to touch, and allowed her to see that its walls were embedded with small seashells. The seashells were clustered together tightly, giving the material its ragged appearance. She paused beside it and reached out, fingertips sliding over the mixture of stone and shells.

"What is this?" Ravenna asked.

Vyses glanced back at her. "It's called coquina. Most buildings in Wai are made from it. From what I've heard, it's mostly just shells but it's pretty sturdy."

"Oh," Ravenna said. The coquina was strangely beautiful and unexpected. Her gaze flickered across the other buildings that stood in front of them. Their lighter color, combined with the slivers of shimmering blue ocean water that appeared between each building, made the town seem brighter, happier almost.

"I've been to here once before," Vyses announced. "There should be an inn closer to the water. We should be able to find shelter there."

"What about the horses?"

"If my memory serves me correctly, there should be a stable attached to the inn," Vyses said. "It's been awhile since I've visited, however. Things could have changed."

Ravenna nodded. She gently stroked her horse's mane. "You'll get to rest soon," she told it softly.

The closer they moved to the water, the closer the buildings seemed to become. When the buildings finally opened into a massive marketplace, Ravenna's mouth dropped open. Her view of the ocean was completely unobstructed. The water glimmered a vibrant turquoise color, its frothy white waves rolling atop a stretch of pure white sand. The townsfolk roamed the streets, the beach, all wearing strange, revealing clothing that made her somewhat uncomfortable to look at.

"This is all so beautiful," Ravenna remarked, watching a pure white bird fly above her head, toward the water. It landed on the beach, immediately surrounded by other white birds.

"It really is," Vyses responded. "Come on. The inn is this way."

The inn itself was also made of coquina and its front door was colored a bright blue color. Vyses lead Ravenna and Lyth around back, through a small fenced yard, toward a large opening that was carved into the back of the inn. Within that opening, they found the stables. Each stall was also made of coquina and the floor was covered in straw.

A young boy rushed forward. His smile was bright, welcoming, despite his tattered clothes. "Welcome," he said. His voice was laced with a heavy accent, one that Ravenna had never heard before. "You can leave your horses with me. I'll set them up in two of our nicest stalls."

"You're very kind," Vyses said. He pressed a coin into the boy's palm. "We shall retrieve them in the morning."

The boy nodded and took the reins from their hands, leading the horses away. Vyses placed a hand on Ravenna's back, guiding her back across the yard, toward the front of the inn. As they entered, Ravenna took a moment to look around. The walls around them were lined with windows, illuminating the room with bright sunlight. A woman stood behind a small desk-like formation that was built into one of the walls. "Hello," she greeted them with a large smile. "Welcome to Noa Inn. Are you interested in a room with a view?"

"A view is not necessary," Vyses stated, shaking his head.

Ravenna swiftly moved forward in front of him. "Yes, it is," she told the woman. "We will only be here for a night and we'd like to see as much of the ocean as we can."

Vyses made a disgruntled noise behind her. Ravenna dismissed him with a wave of her hand and moved toward the desk. She smiled kindly at the woman behind the desk. "What are your prices?"

The woman skimmed through a small book in front of her. "According to my records, we only have one room with a view that is actually available at the moment. It will be six hundred coin for one night."

Ravenna reached into her coin purse, removing a solid gold ring that she'd pickpocketed. "Would this cover the cost?"

The woman blinked. She reached out and took the ring, admiring it. "This will do just fine," she said. She slid it on her finger and scribbled something down in her record book. Then the woman reached under her desk. She straightened, producing a small brass key in her hand. "Here you go, Miss," she said cheerfully. "I hope that you enjoy your stay!"

Ravenna beamed at the woman and sweetly thanked her before she turned around. Her smile only grew when she realized that Vyses was giving her a dirty look. "What's wrong?" she asked him, innocently.

"We're supposed to be saving money," he hissed at her as they climbed the stairs, toward the second floor. "Buying an expensive room isn't saving money."

"I've never seen the ocean before," Ravenna said calmly. "And I'm not about to miss the opportunity to see it now. If we get desperate for money, I can always find us more."

Vyses huffed. Ravenna lead them down the hallway, toward the room labeled with the mark that appeared on their key. Excitement budded within her as they approached. Slowly, she unlocked the door and pushed it open. A breathy sigh escaped her.

"Oh my," she whispered, moving further into the room. "It's so beautiful."

Vyses moved around her, toward the single bed. "I'm glad that you're happy," he remarked.

She ignored him in favor of one of the many massive windows that lined the walls. The ocean stretched out in front of her, an endless field of glistening turquoise. Wooden boats dotted the horizon, some drifting further out to see, others returning home. She closed her eyes and smiled.

Behind her, Vyses cleared his throat.

"Now," he said. "We need to discuss your plans for an army."

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