Beatrice looked out the carriage window and saw the Plebias Mountains, now up close and massive, with hundreds and hundreds of buildings dotting the ground below them or carved out of the side of them.
This was Mammoth Pass, nestled between Dannark and the vast Frozen Desert to the north. Once one ventured on beyond the border, civilization disappeared, replaced by an inhospitable wasteland all the way to the ocean. Only a few scattered tribes had inhabited the Frozen Desert at the time, so Mammoth Pass was essentially the northernmost city in all of Tsubasa.
Beatrice, never having left Balarand in all her life, having already been excited by all the mountains and canyons and small villages they had passed along the way, was absolutely astonished that there could exist such a beautiful city apart from her own.
She had dreamed of travelling in her life– that was one of the main reasons she had set on the path to becoming a priest in the first place– and she was finally getting to do it.
Out of pure happiness, she kissed Emi on the cheek…. and was promptly pushed away.
“Sorry,” she muttered.
They had spent the past five and a half days doing not much else but kissing and talking, so Emi was now in one of her antisocial moods. Beatrice felt fine, but she wanted to keep her girlfriend happy before they were inevitably forced to participate in rich people activities all day. Emi could hardly handle those as is, Beatrice knew well.
The carriage caravan pulled off the highway and onto a city road leading straight into Mammoth Pass proper. A massive ice sculpture in the form of a mythical dragon adorned the center of one city district. It towered over all the other buildings in the vicinity, and all the rockway streets in the area led directly to this central exhibit. It was the crowning jewel of the city.
Beatrice had gotten a small bit of studying done, though not nearly as much as she had originally expected. Now that she had seen what Winter Festivals had to offer, though, she knew she wasn’t going to pull a single book out for the rest of her time here. There was no point in pretending otherwise.
She saw it– “Wow!”
Roaming down the street, with people walking around it as if it was a completely normal occurrence, was a Mammoth, covered in shaggy fur. Its trunk, long and slender, bounced around as it walked.
Beatrice looked closer and realized it was being followed by a few smaller Mammoth calves. It had its own babies, wow! They scurried around with more energy, less regal calmness, and one of them ran up to a passerby on the street, trying to get the human to give it food or affection or whatever it seemed to want at this moment. The parent Mammoth made a groaning sound with its trunk and the child Mammoths filed in line behind it with perfect obedience.
Mammoths were considered sacred in all of Tsubasa’s cultures, but Beatrice never expected anything like this. They simply roamed free in the middle of the city, not hunted, not bothered. Treated with reverence. The city WAS named Mammoth Pass, she realized. It made sense.
The carriage made its way towards a small palace. It was no more than a tenth of the size of Castle Balarand, but it was also a mere vacation home for Empress Nievol, so it was never going to be very massive. Still, it was beautiful, built with rocky, jagged arches. Its roof was a large dome sparkling with silver.
“We’re almost here,” said Emi.
“Are you ready?”
“As long as we can go back to the hotel soon,” she replied.
Beatrice wondered, if the carriage ride was as fancy as it was, what the hotel could possibly look like.
The carriages finally pulled up in front of the palace, with dozens of diplomats in silly-looking outfits waiting for them out in the snow.
“Ugh, my parents are going to be angry if they see me in this,” Emi said, looking down at her not-so-fancy outfit.
“Don’t worry about it, Emi. It’s been a long trip.” She wondered if they were in the crowd right now. Would they accept her? Would they be mad at Emi for bringing her? She knew so little about them…
Beatrice stepped down onto the ground and offered her hand to Emi.
She took her hand and stepped out of the carriage as well. They let go of each others’ hands, as not to look too unprofessional in front of all the diplomats, and walked towards the growing procession of rich and famous people. Beatrice realized at this moment she was going to feel out-of-place for the rest of this trip.
An older man saw the two girls and made his way towards them. Emi had a flash of recognition and ran towards him. “Lord Lau!” she yelled. But rather than jumping up and hugging him around the neck, she extended her hand forwards towards him.
“My little Emi,” the man said in a grandfatherly rasp. He took her hand and shook it like it was completely normal. Beatrice stared blankly. “How nice it is to see you after all this time. You must be so tired after your trip.”
Emi looked back at Beatrice and giggled. “It was a fine trip,” she said. “But I’m very glad to finally be back in Mammoth Pass.”
“As am I to see you once again. However, I must inform you of some ill news. Your parents will not be joining you after all They are being made to remain in Zahn while continuing to resolve some diplomatic issues with the extradition of King Kline from Fathie back to Dannark. A very serious matter. It only came up this week, so they could not warn you before you had departed.”
“I… I understand,” she said.
Beatrice noticed Emi’s crestfallen expression and felt bad. She probably was so excited for her to meet her parents, and now it was just going to be the two of them figuring out what to do all week on their own. Then again, Beatrice thought, it was going to be just the two of them all week. That sounded a lot more exciting, in a way…
“I will still make sure you receive the best experience possible here in Mammoth Pass,” Lord Lau said. “Go, you two, and rest your travels off in your room so you may be up bright and early tomorrow. We are going Mammoth watching!”
Beatrice took a few steps closer to Emi and Lord Lau so she didn’t feel quite so much like an outsider to their conversation.
“Where is our room this year?” Emi asked.
“Why, on the sixth floor of the castle, of course,” he said. “You are a daughter of the L’Hime Family, after all.”
Wh…what? This castle? The one right in front of them at this very moment? Beatrice was going to faint.
“Well, I just thought things might be different, considering…”
Lord Lau’s expression darkened. “We shall not let the political situation ruin your trip this year. You will find yourselves very well accommodated, both of you.”
“Well, thank you,” Emi said.
They headed into the castle. Inside the castle, it was like a luxurious resort, every room patterned after what the Imperial Family would live in… or maybe their servants, at least. The castle’s workers scurried around at the speed of baby Mammoths trying to get all of the new guests situated in their rooms. Beatrice felt too overwhelmed to really comprehend what was going on. So much wealth and so many people… and she was a guest! They went up a ton of flights of stairs, very tiring after a while, and reached their room.
Gods, it was gorgeous.
“Gods, this is gorgeous,” Emi said.
There was a great furnace place right in the middle of the room, kindling a warm glow and glowing warmth all over. There was a small heated tub off to the side, and of course a magnificent bed made from feathers and plush to bounce around on. Outside the window was a full view of the city, all the way towards the nearby Mount Galahad. The outlying villages and towns and their mountain-carved houses were starting to grow dimmer as the sun set behind them.
Their bags hadn’t been brought up yet, but this was such a nice room that Beatrice thought she could start living in it immediately, and forever, without ever having to think about the worries of adult responsibilities or life goals or any of that nonsense. She could stay in this room and relax for a few decades. Yep, that sounded about right.
Emi ran over to the bed and started hopping up and down on the foam fabric. After a moment, Beatrice joined her. This was incredibly childish, but very fun!
“You know, this room is very famous,” Emi told Beatrice as they continued to jump around the bed. “People like We-kus Kalo and Ken Anderso have stayed here before. We’re jumping on the bed that Mr. Anderso jumped on!”
“I have no idea who either of those two people are.”
“They’re the premier yeti hunters of the whole continent. How do you not know them?”
“What’s a yeti?”
“Gods, we are worlds apart sometimes,” Emi said.
“I was kidding,” Beatrice said.
“But you’re probably right,” Beatrice said. “For how much I love you, and how much you love me, sometimes I feel like we have so far to go before we can really understand each other.” She paused, letting Emi soak in the words, before adding, “And there’s certainly one way we can get closer.”
“Read more books together?” Emi hopped backwards and landed butt-first on the bed, and Beatrice followed by making one final hop and then sitting down. Beatrice leaned back and laid her head on one of the many pillows. It was soft. Unnervingly soft.
“Books, huh. You want to help me study for the Priesthood Exam?” she asked.
“Of course,” Emi replied. “I’d help you study for an assassination.”
“What does that mean?”
“Like, if you wanted to kill someone, I would help you do it.”
“Please don’t,” Beatrice said. “That’s wrong.”
“But you are so, so right.” She winked.
“Oh, Emi…” Beatrice, in a bout of excitement, let herself make the kind of sly smile you give when you know your plan is going perfectly. “Wait, I don’t have any books with me. No studying tonight. I guess we’ll have to do something else then.”
Emi’s face grew red. She started to understand. “Maybe… uh, maybe supper’s ready for us. Yeah, let’s go downstairs and check.”
Beatrice shook her head. “I very much doubt that.” She reached out her hand and placed it on Emi’s cheek. Her entire face went cherry-red.
I think I’ll stop narrating from there.