Four

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To avoid the morning rush of traffic, Scarlett left as soon as the sun peaked above the Ghost Sea. She had mapped out the towns and cities from Elektra's list the night before and discovered that if she wanted to reach all the specified sites in time to make the publication date, there would be no coming back to Quinvillu until the very end of the trip. Sleepless nights developing film were a given, but she wanted to impress Elektra Penzier and the rest of Hub Publishing by captioning the entire list. If images of bridges were important to them, they were important to her too.

Knowing Kat would vehemently discourage such a long adventure, Scarlett chose not to divulge her plans. She wanted her sister to know that she would be gone for two weeks in case anything should happen, but rather than explaining face to face, she quickly scribbled a note and left it on the guest bed. Kat would find it soon enough, though not soon enough to stop the road trip.

Which was exactly what Scarlett intended.

There was an unexpected snag in her plan, however. The previous owner of the cruiser failed to mention just how bothersome long rides on a vibrating vehicle were. After an hour of travel, Scarlett's thighs had gone numb, and her bottom, back, and arms ached from being stuck at the oddly curled position the cruiser demanded of its rider. The wind had tangled her hair more than it already was, and her eyes, though protected by glasses, strained as they darted back and forth. There was a high probability that when she next stopped she would be unable to walk a straight line.

Hub Publishing had given her ten plates of film for her assignment, each of which contained twenty sheets of film. They hadn't said much on what style they wanted for the publication but Scarlett had seen the first submitted captions. No creativity had gone into them. The contrast was all wrong, the lighting was harsh, and the angle at which the bridges were taken at came from the center of the road. It was as if the previous contributor had lost all passion.

Scarlett whizzed past a sign with a name she recognized. Sassini was her destination, and after a quick calculation, Scarlett figured the town was another two-and-a-quarter hour ride away. The cruiser was less comfortable than a roamer, but it was her weapon against time and she needed to start using it as such if she was going to succeed.

Her hand rolled over the bar. The cruiser revved and shot forward.

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Sassini was bucolic. Country towns held an allure no metropolitan city could hope to have and Scarlett knew that well from growing up in the third largest city in Naiaca. There was serenity amidst nature and a sense of agelessness. People moved more leisurely, spoke more affectionately, and had such an engaging nature for strangers that when Scarlett asked a passerby where she could find the bridge, they had immediately launched into the history of the town.

That was how she ended up sitting in a stranger's living room drinking mulberry tea and nibbling at a scone as her host–a man named Mr. Faunus, who was past his prime and well into retirement–rattled off history as if it were an oral tradition.

"And then the Phaedrians arrived and burned the bridge again," said Mr. Faunus. Sacks of wrinkled skin had begun to form under his eyes, drooping the skin there to make even the liveliest of men appear saddened.

The elderly man's story enraptured Scarlett. "How awful."

"They were the worst of the worst, those Phaedrians." Mr. Faunus shivered. "Not one of them was good. They fled as one colony, those vile sorcerers, across the Ghost Sea. A shame their ships did not sink."

"For shame," Scarlett agreed. She had learned the broad bulk of the history of the Phaedrians in school, but pockets of stories – like the one of Sassini – were new.

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