Chapter 78

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Ten years ago, Frista had gotten into journalism with the pure naivety of youth.

Her idol had always been the writer Alim Moonflower. In the year 350, Moonflower had exposed King Nelim Strongborn's cruelty with the natives of the Sentinel Island, the newest Rengleam colony at the time.

Alim had then got himself arrested by the king's men. Except, the people of Rimar took to the streets in his defense. It turned out that they hated the king, and loved the writer. The soldiers of Veya's Swords then stole the show, taking it upon themselves to free Moonflower and arrest the king for betraying Rengleam values; for what he'd done to those natives behind his people's backs.

In Rimar, they had the famous Moonflower Park named after him.

It was an inspiring story – a story in which the truth had won. The writer had won.

As she stood on the quay in the windy evening, watching The White Bird sail from West Harbor, Frista hoped her story would find a happy ending, too.

She put a gloved hand to her beret, so as not to lose it to the wind. A few paces to her left on the quay, a freighter was moored, with the crew busy unloading it. Frista kept her gaze on The White Bird as the ship became smaller and smaller in the distance. She was one of the rare passenger ships that still had sails. But she did also have a steam engine for when the wind wasn't efficient enough.

Her captain, Reno Bluesmoke, was a friend. A few years ago, Frista had studied law, and worked in the field for some time before coming to the conclusion that it depressed her even more than journalism.

Nonetheless, she'd been able to help out a few people, Captain Bluesmoke included. She'd found a loophole that saved him from an undeserving sentence at the Black Fortress. Pro bono, too. Reno had a wife and kids – Frista's heartstrings had been tugged.

Anyway, Reno owed her one.

So, on this evening of October 9 of the year 505, The White Bird carried with her a very precious cargo. A box, full of freshly printed copies of Frista's independent article.

In about two weeks, the ship would dock in the Rimar Harbor. Once there, Reno would see to it personally that this box made it to the Rimar Palace, and to Princess Voniana Strongborn.

Frista had discussed this with Rilien, and they thought it best that the princess read it first. Frista had heard good things about her. Apparently, the princess was the most progressive of all the royals, and she had no tolerance for abuse done to women.

Also, Frista had joined a letter to the box, atop the pile of articles, as a means of explanation. She wouldn't have wanted the princess to skim the title and first few lines and deem it undeserving of her attention – much as Frista's jaded friend at the printers had, thankfully, concluded.

After all, it read:

The Gentlemen of New Rimar

By Frista Latesky

With the precious collaboration of Rilien Grayhound, Shivan Stormwave and Leithan Blackfeather

Followed by a few opening lines that were purposefully banal and meaningless. But, upon reading Frista's letter, the princess would be quick to understand that the trite opening was naught but a sadly unavoidable strategy.

If Princess Strongborn read just a little further, she'd get to the part where Frista explained how City Lord Blane Grayhound had, much like some kind of cruel Cieltz King, ignored the Rengleam's basic laws on human dignity and improvised for himself a harem of exotic slave girls.

Thus breaking the one law that was dearest to the Rengleam people ever since the birth of Veyaism. To partake in slave ownership was punishable by a lifelong sentence in prison.

Shivan joined her as the sun began to set. He stood beside her, tightening his jacket against the wind, a good many inches taller than she was even with the heels on her boots.

"Sorry I'm late," he said.

He'd raised his voice to be heard over the cries of seagulls, over the clanging of rigging against masts, and the hollering of a nearby crew captain.

"The printers?" she asked.

Shivan smiled reassuringly. "They told me I could pick them up for distribution tomorrow morning."

Frista's heart leapt, and she released a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding.

"This is really happening," she whispered.

On the western horizon, The White Bird was a small dot by now. Above the dark blue waves of the Siren Ocean, the clouds were outlined in vibrant yellows and oranges.

"Here, I brought something for you," Shivan said, and she turned.

He held up a metal canister with a retractable lid. When her hand closed around it, she felt the warmth through her glove.

"Is this coffee?" she asked him, and her desperate hope must've been obvious, because he laughed. His brown eyes glinted kindly at her.

"Yes, Frista. It's coffee. Thought you might need it, you stayed up all night writing."

"Thank you," she said gratefully.

She threw her arm around his waist as they watched the rest of the sunset together. He seemed to hesitate, then draped his arm around her shoulders, which made her smile. They stayed like this for a few minutes, the quay's activity coming and going around them as Frista sipped her coffee.

"Are you going to Leithan's lecture?" Frista eventually asked him.

Shivan chuckled, the dark orange of the sunset brightening his eyes.

"Sure. I heard the rumor, same as everyone else. One of Veya's Chosen, defying the Elder Priest! Can't miss that. Think he'll get himself kicked out?" Shivan asked.

Frista shrugged. "Even if he does, it won't matter. If there's any kind of fairness in this world, Tremes won't be Elder for much longer. The spokesperson for Veya abusing young women in his spare time? I'm surprised Veya herself hasn't risen from the grave to hunt him down."

Shivan shoved his hand in his pocket, admiring the last rays of sunset. "Wonder who started the rumor. I talked to my sister the other day and she told me it wasn't Leithan."

Frista smirked. "It was me."

"What?" Shivan laughed. "Why?"

She shrugged again. "I feel like Leithan has important things to say to people right now, and people are ready to hear them. Also, I'll admit, I thought it might distract from what you and I have been working on."

"Clever," Shivan said, smiling. He gave her shoulders a slight squeeze.

"I know," she said, amused.

Frista knew, much like all of Shivan's friends, that he was infatuated with Cara. It bordered on devotion. But these past few days, Frista had thought she'd felt the spark of something between them. Her intuition for these things was usually on point.

Although, Frista wasn't about to steal Shivan from Cara while the poor woman was being held against her will in the bowels of the Cascadia.

She would just have to wait and see how things played out.

When the sun's final halo melted into the ocean's line, their arms slipped away from one another, like a spell had been broken.

"Ready to go?" Shivan asked, and she nodded.

"Let's go."

Side by side, they strolled along the quay, then up a narrow cobblestone path and into the city proper with its charming little shops and restaurants. Sharing the road with them were newly arrived travelers with suitcases, sometimes pausing to ask locals about the most recommended inn. The Happy Monkey was usually the answer.

A small group of travelers in their twenties asked Frista and Shivan what they should do tonight for fun; where they should go.

"The Golden Temple," Frista advised with a smile. 

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