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REPORT book 1 chapter 12
Rose attends a noisy dinner.
Chapter 12—Dramatic Declarations
We fell...too slowly. Not like when the brain races and the world seems too slow. We literally were not falling as fast as we should have been.
Confusion flooded my panicked mind, and then realization clicked: The rocks were floating. Gravity was not normal here. Or more accurately, gravity had some extra factors to deal with and so acted in ways contrary to how I was accustomed.
So I had plenty of time to reach out and grab the spinning boulder, legs tightening around my mount. Snorting in fear, the leempree still ran as if the clouds might offer some traction.
I hooked my toes under the joint of his forelegs and chest and swung my body with the rock’s rotation, flinging Lan toward the cliff’s edge. He flew like a massive, flailing, flightless bird, landing on wet, crumbly clay and scrambling up the slight slope.
My stone still spun, carrying me onto its topside. I leapt, bouncing off two more before joining Lan on solid ground, gnarled tree roots beneath my feet. Their massive owners embraced just behind me, cloaked in juicy vines.
I rubbed my leempree’s muzzle, forcing calm into my breaths, sharing his terror, his need to flee, and countering that with my need for him to stay, though I really had no idea how to convey such. The wild fire in his eyes matched the frantic pounding of my heart.
“World’s finest indeed!” Wae gasped from behind me, sitting easily on the back of her own mount. “You just threw a leempree!” Awe blanched her face and widened her colorless eyes, which should anyone care for my opinion, were a little creepy. Adrenaline had temporarily allowed me to forget she was there and that she had led me into this trap.
“And I’ll throw you next if you don’t start showing me proper respect!” I wasn’t familiar with this gravity whirlpool, but I was still sure I could have easily died.
Awe shut down, and a green tinge spilled across Wae’s cheeks. “The lack of respect’s all yours. You’re never to sit on Prince Hent’s lap again, understand? Stay away from him or else!”
“What if he wants me to sit on his lap?” I challenged, stomping toward her. Lan followed me like a baby bird. I glared up at Wae. “What if Hent asks me to sit on him?”
“This’s an awkward argument to walk in on,” Blu remarked, swinging out of an enormous tree.
“Blu!” I exclaimed, delighted that one: I was no longer alone with Wae, and two: he was no longer getting lectured over a mess I felt partially responsible for.
Wae’s greeting was less joyful.
“What are you doing here, Blu?” Tone terse, eerie eyes narrowed, arms tangled across her front.
I tried to ignore her, forcing calm over myself and into Lan. Keeping one hand on his muzzle, I edged to his side and slid onto his back.
Blu explained, “Hent sent me to find Rose after I showed up at the palace before she did. It’s been ruahs, and we’re gonna be late for dinner.”
Wae gasped, “Prince Hent sent you to find me?!” Return of the starry-eyed maiden.
“No, he sent me to find Rose.”
I gave Wae a cheeky smile, grin growing as Blu observed, “Never expected to find her attempting to ride an un-ridable leempree.”
“Not just attempting,” I countered. “Admirably achieving, despite Wae’s conniving manners.”
“She threw that leempree across the fissure,” Wae tattled, calculation pinching her delicate features. “She must’ve been brought here as a freak useful for hard labor.”
“We actually brought her because she’s super smart,” Blu countered, turning to me, “though if you happen to be super strong, too, that’s epic.”
“I think that would be an excellent epithet.”
“Uh, sure. That sounds like it’d be neat,” Blu agreed, scratching the back of his head.
Superior air puffier than ever, Wae chided, “You don’t know what’s an epithet, do you Blu?”
“Don’t expect me to define big words on an empty stomach,” Blu countered with a nervous laugh. “Let’s get goin’ so we don’t miss dinner.”
“Boys and their stomachs,” Wae sighed with a roll of her eyes, tapping her leempree’s shoulder. Her light-footed mount took off, galloping on a narrow path through the trees.
“You expect me to run all the way back on an empty stomach?!” Blu called, but she ignored him. He turned to me. “Well, you think Lan can carry both of us?”
It wasn’t entirely fair to Lan, seeing as how I alone was heavier than most Grenswa-nas, but the young stallion was up to the task. As I tried to pour massive amounts of ‘soothing’ into the leempree, Blu hopped aboard, and Lan took off like a haillet launched from a sling.
I held tight to the filament mane, and Blu held tight to me, his arms around my waist restricting my breathing, which in turn lessened my control over Lan. The leempree ran even faster, and Blu, who hadn’t gotten the chance to properly sit, flopped like a badly designed cape.
We’ll fall and break our necks! my subconscious shrieked. No, calm down. You have to be calm in order to calm this animal.
I forced myself to loosen my grip, to relax, to flatten my palms against the leempree’s neck and lean close to his ear.
“Calm, Lan. Calm,” I breathed, and it worked. His hoofbeats settled into a rhythm my heart could keep up with, his gait smoothing out.
“Your breaths form a song,” Blu gasped, arms still looped around me but no longer like a vice. “A song I can’t quite understand but that I know deep in my heart.”
Oh-no, he’d noticed my Seallaii-na charisma, but he didn’t know what it was. An innate song was an interesting way of describing it, but I had no way of predicting how it would affect him.
With a half-hearted laugh, I excused, “They say there’s music in everything, and only those with sensitive enough ears can hear it.”
“I like your song. I think I love you.”
“What?!” I almost fell off the leempree...or jumped off. Some combination of those verbs. Had I actually succeeded in jumping off, I’m sure there would have been more falling involved.
Hence Blu told me, “Careful, you’ll fall,” as he held me tight again.
We had nearly caught up to Wae, and I wondered if she would chide me for this position as she had when I sat on Hent’s lap. Only at no point had Hent declared he loved me.
“You only met me today!”
Blu shrugged. “How long was it before Jixon declared his love for Zaqhara?” Grenswa’s most famous couple, presumably the founders of the Tyawania^ dynasty and ancestors of the princes I’d met today.
“No one knows how long,” I combated, “but it was probably more than half a day! The legend’s earliest mention of Zaqhara is when Jixon returns to his homeland and she is with him, a lovely lady from lands then unknown.”
“Kind of like you, huh?”
Wae inserted, “I prefer to believe Zaqhara declared her love for Jixon first.” I wondered how much of this conversation she had actually heard.
“Blu, dramatic declarations aside, you can’t love someone unless you know them, and you can’t know them after only a fraction of a day.”
“So then I’d like to get to know you.”
“What if I’m a monster in disguise?”
“Then I’ll find that out.”
Fear congealed in my gut. He might find that out exactly. Hent believed my kind to be monsters.
Wae’s laugh only solidified my terror. “Congratulations, I totally approve of this pairing.”
Only because you have a crush on the second prince, and for some reason you think I’m a love rival, I thought. I wasn’t here to find a romantic partner. As a Sarquant, my future husband would be nominated by River Guardian Elders, and a Grenswa-na who might barely live to a hundred would not be on their list of prospects.
“I’m surprised, Wae,” I quipped, “after you were going on and on about how much you admire Blu. Your eyes practically had hearts in them.”
“Really, Wae?” Blu exclaimed. “I’d’ve never guessed.”
Wae rolled her eyes. “Because she’s lying, Bird Brain.”
“Bird Brain?” Blu snorted. “I’m’n’t the one whose paternal clan name is tye, like the bird.”
They continued to argue as we broke through the tree line onto the palace grounds. Fluffy green clover blanketed the soft soil in round, ankle-high tufts as if plopped there in scoops, no spot bare. Knee-high walls of stacked stone rose in sweeping tiers, evoking thoughts of both stairs and ocean waves. These lapped at the base of the palace—a conglomeration of massive, bulbous cylinders and swirling spirals, some parts translucent like polished gems, others glittering and textured like rough marble. If giant bubbles were to marry an enormous sandcastle, this would be their overgrown baby.
We had big buildings on Seallaii, structures that were elegant, intimidating, practical, or complex. But this was nothing like those, both imposing and fragile, neat and chaotic.
I stared, mouth agape, rotely following Blu and Wae as they dismounted and thanked the leemprees for their service. Wae’s ride wandered back into the jungle, unimpressed by a silly building, while Lan gave me a goodbye nudge on the back before trotting off after his friend.
“Hurry!” Blu urged, grabbing my hand and towing me along faster. “If there’s no food left, I’m totally blamin’ Wae.”
“How’d it possibly be my fault?!”
“Because you ate so much at lunch, everyone suffered with half-empty bellies until dinner, where they took advantage of your absence and gobbled up everything!”
“Can you believe this slander, World’s Finest?” Wae scoffed with a dramatic wave.
Only half paying attention, I mumbled, “It’s moving.”
“What, the palace?” Blu clarified, tracing my gaze to the centermost cluster of towers. The walls there rippled as if the edifices were constantly turning themselves inside out. “Of course the palace’s moving.”
Yes, of course. I had to remind myself that Grenswa-nas associated beauty with transience. In its purest form, beauty was fleeting, and to capture it or force it into stillness—such as in a photograph—was to diminish its value. Beauty was to be experienced by those present at the right moment.
This mindset provided another reason for the adoration shown to Opals like Hent.
I scowled, the second prince and his warped opinions shoved from my mind, and instead I concentrated on mimicking the Grenswa-na springy gait. In this abstract gravity, it was a difficult feat to accomplish without launching myself into the heavens.
And Wae was impressed when I threw a leempree, I mused with a wry smile. I’d like to see her face if I leapt over this castle.
I glanced sidelong at her, amused by my thoughts and equally annoyed by the stairs we climbed. As if walking ‘normally’ hadn’t been hard enough, each step was a little higher than my knees. Wae bounded up with weightless footfalls, graceful and effortless, while Blue performed back handsprings along the inclined balustrade and gained quite a lead on us.
“Blu, why can’t you just climb stairs like a normal person?” Wae chided.
Blu paused in a handstand, calling back, “Because that’d be boring! You’re so slow. Stop getting’ in Rose’s way.”
Because the Queen of Agility here is exactly what’s making this so exhaustingly difficult, inner me grumbled. I might as well leap and get it over with.
‘Look before you dive in somewhere.’
Fredo’s words crashed into me like a galloping leempree, and my heart collapsed into a hollow void, freezing my lungs solid. It hurt. I couldn’t breathe, and I tripped over my own bare feet, nearly falling on my face.
But he was right. Fredo wasn’t here to protect me. Caution had to be my most vigilant guard now. If I went around making blind leaps, I’d end up plummeting off this island…at best.
And Wae would likely laugh.
As if on cue, Wae giggled.
“You think this palace’s amazin’, right?” she chirped.
That’s a leading question, I thought, but I nodded anyway.
“The Druojojneerpsrii Sarquant Sjaealam figured out how to make it work.” I started at mention of my uncle, but Wae obliviously continued, “He was a close friend of my family. I’m named after him because my great-grandfather says I’m just as brilliant and even more beautiful.”
Grenswa-nas only bestowed unique names, so ‘naming someone after someone else’ only meant terming them something similar. I guessed, “Then your full name is something like Waeala?”
“Waelana,” she corrected with a coy peek at me over a raised shoulder. “Waelana Vinta Tye.” She emphasized her maternal surname like it was supposed to trigger an epiphany.
It didn’t. Vinta was the name of a perpetually stormy sea near Grenswa’s southern pole, and I knew a Pearl city thrived far beneath the churning waves, but I didn’t see any connection as to why that would make her feel entitled to act so pompous.
I felt the need to take her down a notch.
“Wae, have you ever met a Seallaii-na?”
“Why’d I want to?” she chuckled.
“Because Prince Hent thinks they’re all gorgeous.” I gave her the same sly over-the-shoulder glance she had given me.
“He told me so.”
Silence fell over her like a marble veneer, and I didn’t bother breaking it.
Even so, it didn’t last. We burst into the most boisterous dining hall I’d ever seen. That’s not saying much considering meals were a noiseless affair on Seallaii. You weren’t supposed to let anyone hear you chew or swallow, and food was supposed to somehow get in your mouth without you opening it too far.
This was a symphony of slurping, burping, mmmm’s, whoops of delight, and peals of laughter. Lady Lokma would have fainted. It was glorious.
“Over here!” Blu called, again taking my arm and pulling me in a headlong rush.
Most of the spaces I’d seen thus far in this palace were triangular—doorways; hallways; even staircases seemed to come in pairs, forming two sides while the floor drew the base. This dining hall was no exception, a pinched-arch doorway in each of the three corners. The coral-textured table was shaped as a chevron with its blunt bottom point wide enough to seat six. It had no legs, instead chained to the ceiling by a plethora of slender helices.
“It’s Blue-day, so we get the place of honor,” Blu whispered as we ran under the table. Even had I stood on Blu’s shoulders, I would have barely been able to reach its rough underside. The feet dangling from those sitting around it, however, would probably have kicked me in the face.
By ‘place of honor,’ he meant the chevron’s inner elbow, where he grabbed a draping piece of cloth and swung up into a hammock-like chair. Glancing around the table, I observed no strict protocol as to how to sit in these—some reclined sideways, others sat upright with feet hanging or tucked beneath them. Some even sat multiple people per swing.
I climbed into an empty hammock next to Blu’s and sat with my feet dangling and my hands gripping the lacy ropes on either side of me. Blu snatched a large, bread-encrusted bird leg and leaned back with his feet on the table.
“Bluanto, move your feet. That’s where your guest’s plate goes,” a woman on my other side rebuked. Like Blu, she was Sapphire, had rounded features and chocolate-colored hair, and possessed a restless energy. I was ninety-nine percent sure this was Blu’s mother. He barely had time to comply before she plopped a golden platter down where his feet had been.
The giant fish head on it stared at me.
“Don’t feel you must eat it all, Dear, but I figured you’d want a large portion. Paqo told me you ate an entire crysslist soufflé by yourself, even though it was meant for four people,” Blu’s mother assuaged.
“Actually, I’m still full from the soufflé,” I lied, trying not to look at the fish head. I could feel its stare.
Seallaii-nas only ate once a day and in proportions similar to the size of both my fists. As long as they were in a warm environment, Grenswa-nas ate significantly less quantities and about twice as often—or four times throughout their long day.
I was fairly certain more than a Seallaii-na day had passed since I had eaten the soufflé, and I was hungry, but Seallaii-nas didn’t eat meat, and I wasn’t going to start with this grotesque, judgmental head.
“But Blue-day food is the best!” Blu protested.
“Bluanto, you’ve grown up eating at a multi-racial table,” his mother reasoned. “Most people only eat the traditional food of their own tribe, and you know how different Amethyst food’s from ours.”
Blu was suddenly in my face. “You don’t like Sapphire food, Rose?”
I shook my head; my once-pretzel-inspired bun was a messy tangle, and the movement caused it to pull painfully in several places, making me wince. “I’ve never eaten it before.”
“Then you should try it, because it’s awesome, and we only get it once a week.”
“On Blue-day. Do you eat a different type of ethnic food every day?”
“It’s fair,” Blu’s mother explained. “Little is known about the ancient people of these islands. Those of us here now’re gathered from all over the world. We’re like one big, multi-racial family.”
“So we eat stuff from the tribe associated with the color of the day,” Blu pitched in. Today was Blue-day, so they ate dishes from Sapphire.
While Seallaii-nas termed the days of our week by the logical First-day, Second-day, Third-day all the way through Sixteenth-day, Grenswa-nas titled their ten weekdays after the colors of their tribes. Their system was both more imaginative and harder to remember. At least it mostly went in rainbow order.
Blu and his mother representing Sapphire sat at the inner bend of the chevron table. To our left were a group of Aquamarines, who had likely held the place of honor yesterday, Aqua-day. To our right were Amethysts corresponding with tomorrow, Purple-day.
But this quick study of the table’s occupants produced another question.
“There aren’t any Cobalts here?”
“Why’d there be any ~inonii here?” Blu questioned (that tilde denotes a sharp cluck). Now that he mentioned it, I noticed everyone here was Luuejii.
Grenswa had two tribes associated with the color blue: Sapphire and Cobalt. The former were Luuejii, the latter ~inonii, and this pattern held true for most of the eleven official colors of Grenswa.
Here’s a chart:
Both words have their roots in ancient Grenswa-na dialects. Luuejii floats around the concept of being gifted and prosperous, whereas ~inonii is related to the word for brat.
The real difference between these peoples is more superficial: the Luuejii display pastel versions of their colors as a child, gaining a metallic sheen by adulthood, and the ~inonii manifest neon shades throughout their lives. The ~inonii’s hair also tends to match their eyes and scales, and their skin usually has a more translucent quality to it.
I had known ~inonii were stereotypically labeled barbaric and that they had no representation in the Grenswa-na government, especially since their attempted revolution two decades ago, but I had still expected to see some.
Instead, those in attendance were as follows: Sapphires in the place of honor, Amethysts to their right, and Ambers wrapping around the end of the chevron. To their right and across from the Amethysts sat Pearls and Onyxes.
Rubies sat on either end of the blunted point across from the Sapphires, the Royal Family nestled among them…or Timqé and his mother at least.
To the right of the Rubies were the Topazes and Golds, Emeralds wrapping around the table’s end so that the Aquamarines filled the last space to the left of the Sapphires.
See, all from the left Luuejii column of that chart.
It clicked in my mind that this was why there was no Gray-day. Though there were eleven official tribal colors, there were only ten days in a week. They wouldn’t name a day after the Chrome ~inonii, and Silver was not an official Luuejii tribe. Sometimes Silvers were born to Onyx, but they were considered cursed.
With all this deliberation forming a blizzard in my mind, I didn’t actually answer Blu, and he apparently expected me to.
Voice in a low, serious whisper, he pressed, “You think ~inonii should be here? You agree with Timqé?”
Before I could say anything, Blu’s mother censured, “Bluanto, the dinner table’sn’t the place to discuss such things.”
But I did agree with Timqé. Leaving the ~inonii out was exactly what made them revolt in the first place. While my situation was far from the same, I knew what it was like to be shushed or talked over, plopped in a corner and told to look pretty or intriguing or mysterious. I was not a statue, but some people acted like they would have preferred it if I were. My opinion mattered very little.
Despite the raucous dinner sounds, the First Prince heard Blu’s quiet words. Ocean jewel eyes pierced me from across the wide table. I met his gaze, offering a solemn nod, and his features narrowed, head tilting slightly, calculation flickering.
I suddenly worried about the clues he might put together. As Paqo had already proven, my disguise wouldn’t hold up under much scrutiny, and I had already spoken too recklessly around Timqé. In the forest, I had advocated for Seallaii-na trespassers. When my unfiltered mouth called my education into question, I had told him I had been raised by Druojojneerpsrii, and I still didn’t know how I should explain that if he asked.
Now I agreed on equal rights for ~inonii. At best, he would think me an activist. At worst, he would realize he had found the other alien trespasser and call in that Onyx officer who wanted to erase any evidence of my existence.
Gaze never leaving me, Timqé leaned toward the queen. “Mother, you noticed Blu brought a guest today? Hent insisted on bringin’ her to the island. She was raised by Druojojneerpsrii.”
Queen Jianthy moved like molasses: graceful, smooth, and slow. She studied me for several secliis, her gaze the same burning sapphire as Timqé’s, irises wider and striped in the shadow of long, chocolate lashes. Her complexion was fair rubicund to complement the warm brown of her beaded hair and the cool blue of her scales.
Others joined her, the dinner symphony fading into silence as one by one, everyone took up staring at me. I felt naked without my scarf to hide behind. The silence felt like a vacuum drawing words from me, begging to be filled, and I squished my lips together and dropped my gaze to my plate.
That was a bad idea. The fish head still gawked at me.
Finally, Queen Jianthy spoke: “Does the guest possess a name and an age?”
“Rose,” I replied in practically a whisper, peeking up at her. “I’m nearly eighteen.”
“There’ven’t been Druojojneerpsrii on Grenswa in your lifetime.” She said it so blandly, no accusation, no curiosity, just fact floating lazily down a river, and an easy counter came to me in its wake.
“Their fanatics remain, those who learned from the Druojojneerpsrii in times past and try to be like them now.”
“And my Hent insisted we bring an alien-obsessed fanatic into our hidden castle?” Something boiled deep within the queen’s molasses demeanor.
I bit down on my first retort, a little hurt at being called an alien-obsessed fanatic, and then realizing those words did actually apply to me.
“I’m obsessed with the good of Grenswa, this planet,” I professed, sitting taller on my swing. Should I tell the truth, deliver my message now? This was Grenswa’s queen, and I had the attention of representatives from every Luuejii tribe.
Terror eked through me, both stoked and soothed by Timqé’s advice in the woods. A true messenger was willing to pay any price.
I took a deep breath. “I’m here because-”
“Timqé! Timqé! Timqé! Look at this!”
River’s End Chapter 12: Dramatic Declarationshat this was why there was no Gray-day. Though there were eleven official tribal colors, there were only ten days in a week. They wouldn’t name a day after the Chrome ~inonii, and Silver was not an official Luuejii tribe. Sometimes Silvers were born to Onyx, but they were considered cursed.