A fleet of six carriages were lined up to depart from Balarand and head on north past the Elincan-Dannark border, up to the base of the Plebias Mountains, where laid Mammoth Pass, the northernmost city in all of civilized Tsubasa. Anything past there, and it was nigh-uninhabitable wasteland known as the Frozen Desert. This really was the furthest place you could get in this continent, so these carriages came prepared.
And in this trip north, Emi and Beatrice had actually first travelled south. Before their journey could officially begin, they went to the great mansions around Lake Geoffrey, where they would be joining some sort of tourist caravan. Beatrice hadn’t been well-informed about the specifics of this trip, but she was prepared for anything.
Well, theoretically anything. Right now, she was overwhelmed beyond belief. She had never experienced anything so fancy in her life. The party at Emi’s house she had attended sure was nice, but this was beyond that entirely. The carriages were white and adorned with all sorts of decorations. Dozens of wealthy individuals wearing wigs and bright-colored tunics loitered around while Beatrice was just here like herself. She couldn’t believe she thought she was going to stick out.
One young boy, dressed in a puffy white coat and wearing a long dark wig, approached Beatrice. “Welcome to my humble abode,” he said. “I am Tia Knoll.” He extended his coat and curtseyed.
“I… uh, hi…” She was NOT forewarned about meeting a member of the Knoll family and then being bowed to like she was an equal! Emi knew the Knolls! Beatrice completely forgot about the fact that the L’Hime Family really was that influential.
“You are Emi’s muse, correct? I like you already. You are likely the only thing keeping her from doing rash and stupid things all the time.”
“Hey… don’t talk about Emi like that.”
“Honey, do not worry about it. She has been my friend for as long as I can remember.” But was he her friend in return? That, Beatrice could not tell. He seemed nice, but Emi had never mentioned him before, not even once. Then again, it’s not like Beatrice talked much about her school friends to Emi. She remembered Emi giving an odd look when she first met Bodhi at the Winter Ceremonies, though she never said anything about it afterwards.
When was Emi going to finish getting changed, anyway? That girl was so slow.
“Have you been to Mammoth Pass for the Winter Festival before?” Tia asked.
“No, I’ve never even left Balarand before,” Beatrice said. “Is it like the Winter Ceremonies?”
“Nothing alike. I would not even be able to consider them the same species of celebration.”
Beatrice was simultaneously perplexed and intrigued.
“I have been to Mammoth Pass each winter for my entire life, and I must say it is one of the more exciting parts of my year. My boyfriend is stuck in Balarand with the flu, so I am truly envious of you and yours. You are going to love this.”
Beatrice couldn’t help but blush.
Finally, Emi came out of the Knoll mansion dressed up in some sort of outfit that looked more like an elaborate costume than a dress. It was huge, poofy, and bright red, making her stick out exactly in the ways she surely didn’t desire. She was more a walking portrait than a human. Still, she was cute enough that she nearly pulled it off. Red dresses always look amazing, I think, and this one worked excellently on Emi.
While I think it was cute, Beatrice was floored by it. This was her own girlfriend standing there, her own girlfriend shining in scarlet radiance. The dress didn’t exactly have the best design, she thought, but it hardly mattered when the person wearing it had the design of a Goddess.
She had grown so accustomed to Emi, so connected to her, but never stopped for a single moment being able to see her beauty, on the inside and out. She knew she was uncomfortable right now, appearing in front of everyone in a revealing, low-cut dress. But the fact that she soldiered on despite that was remarkable. Emi had so much in her life to complain about, so many things that restricted her from doing what she wanted, but she didn’t just sit back and take them; she absorbed them and used her hardships to make herself stronger.
Every step she took was measured and careful, every flick of her hair done with grace. For someone who was so opposed to the regal life, Emi had the ability to make herself look absolutely aristocratic. Beatrice used to be confused about that, unable to understand why Emi didn’t just run away if she hated the rich life so much. But she realized the truth– Emi was born for this. She was too powerful to run away.
“It is time to go,” said Tia, when Emi finally reached them.
“I’m finally ready,” Emi said. “I wasn’t aware that my parents had ten dresses made for me for this trip, but I guess I’ll get to look like a proper lady for the next couple weeks.” She walked over to Beatrice and gave her a quick kiss. “Sorry for making you wait, Tris. I hope I didn’t cut into your valuable study time. How will you ever pass your tests now?”
“Hey, don’t be mean.”
“Uh-oh… I think you’re in for a rough few days if you want nice people around,” Emi said.
“I’ll move to a new carriage.”
“Sure you will. You’d be willing to sacrifice kisses that easily, I’m sure.”
Beatrice playfully shoved Emi. “Come on, let’s get going.”
Tia waved and began walking to a carriage up front. “I will see you ladies when we reach our first rest stop,” he said. “Try to enjoy yourselves. And Beatrice, I am excited for you to experience this trip for the first time.”
“Thank you,” she replied.
They entered the carriage. It was small, only enough room for three or four people to sit on each side and for storage in the back, but it was cozy and the seats were very comfortable. Beatrice wasn’t sure if she would be able to sleep on these seats every night for almost a week, but she was sure they would come to some sort of accommodation on the way. Right?
Emi sat next to Beatrice and unfolded a warm blanket to go over both of them. She wrapped her arm around her and said, “I really hate this dress.”
“It doesn’t look very good,” Beatrice said.
The carriages took off towards the Grand Concourse and eventually the highway towards Mammoth Pass.