Atop the Gonda Tower, all five moons were in view, radiating in full bloom and showing off the entire city of Balarand.
Emi, for the first time in her life, realized that Balarand wasn’t exactly a city crossed by two rivers. More like… Balarand was one giant misshapen island in the middle of one big river. It was a revelation that put her entire life into perspective. She was an islander, living on an island city.
It changed nothing, but still.
Emi and Novella stood at the edge of the roof and watched the stars sparkle in the night sky, watched the military patrols sweep the streets below. Peaceful, quiet, beautiful, but not exactly the kind of atmosphere that sets one at ease.
Behind them was a whole party of people. Emi’s Mother and Father squabbled about something or another. Touma had two Dannark noblewomen by his side and was about to be slapped by both. Reo stood alone watching the patrols with a pensive frown. Ms. Khami chatted with the recently-arrived Lord Lau, while his daughter was in the process of being seduced by none other than Pip.
A whole crew of Emi’s family and closest friends, and she ignored them all in favor of the woman next to her.
To be fair, the woman next to her was Novella Khara, her soon-to-be-wife, and this woman was surprisingly adept at conversation. Even… a friend, perhaps.
Down below, large towers were being constructed on top of buildings all over the city, with large, rotating panels. They were called semaphore telegraphs, large devices that could be used to carry messages across long distances. The towers would rotate the panels to indicate a message, and then the next tower would replicate it until it carried all the way to the front lines of the Dannark-Doros War. While they were dwarfed by the size of Gonda Tower, even partway through construction it was clear they would change the shape of the cityscape dramatically. Never again could a rebellion break out when commanders across the river could exchange messages in an hour or less. Another new normal.
“A shame, isn’t it?” Novella asked.
Emi turned her head from the view below. “What is?”
“That we’re out here celebrating peace when these conquerors are installing towers to clamp down its iron fist.”
“Oh… Um, I’m not really into talking politics with a lover,” Emi said. “It’s kind of a rule of mine.”
“We aren’t lovers,” Novella said. “We’re merely fiancees.”
“Any further would be presumptuous to the point that I’d have to think you are attracted to me.”
“Well, you’re certainly attracted to me, and we ARE getting married in a couple weeks. So I guess that makes us pretty close to lovers.”
“But enough of lovers that you cannot talk about politics?”
“Sheesh, fine,” Emi whined. “I completely agree with you. I think it’s terrible what Dannark is doing to our city. But the rebels that attacked us did a bad thing too. Violence trades for more violence. And if the Dannark-Doros War gets any worse…”
“We’ll be in Zahn by then.”
“But my heart will still be here. I’m an Elincian through and through. A Balarand islander.”
“Nevermind. What I mean is…” Emi tried to figure out the right words to say what she wanted. “The rebellion, the occupation, the war, all of it is an injustice against the harmony of the Gods. My gir–my friend taught me a lot about the way Tsubasa works like a finely tuned machine, and right now, the springs are broken, so the whole thing’s falling apart.”
“An apt metaphor for a gear-head such as yourself.”
“No offense to you, but I don’t want to marry you for love or romance or any of that,” Emi said. “I want your noble status so I can better help the world. So we can better help the continent.”
“Tsubasa is in great trouble now, but we can fix it. There’s something I realized during the rebellion: we are important people. We have so many resources at our disposal, and we have the opportunity to use them to better the world. We can end the injustices and restore harmony to the continent. For years, people like you and me have sat on their hands doing nothing but keeping the status quo. But we can be the ones to finally change things forever.”
“Together, you say. You assume I wish to do anything of the sort.”
“You’ve already been doing your part. You were the education governess and helped an entire nation’s children learn to read and write.That’s amazing, Novella. Think of what we could do!”
Novella seemed to ponder this for a few moments. Then, she smiled softly. “It’s a good dream.”
“A darn great one, you mean.”
“I like it. Let’s bring harmony to Tsubasa.”
Emi L’Hime was soon to become Emi Khara. The Moon Festivals had drawn near, and wedding preparations were well underway. It was an exhausting process, enough so that this trip to Gonda Tower was one of the most refreshing reprieves she’d had in weeks.
“This woman of yours, this Beatrice,” Novella began. “She must mean a lot to you.”
“Yeah… A lot.”
“You still love her.”
“Of course,” Emi said. “She’s the woman who changed my life. She’s the reason I decided we’ll change the continent together. And she’s absolutely gorgeous.”
“I see,” Novella said. “The kind of love that doesn’t fade like a fire. More like… frost on the top of a mighty mountain.”
Emi nodded. “I’ll love Beatrice the rest of my life,” she said. “And probably more than ever knowing she’s out there doing the Gods’ work.”
“It almost sounds like you want to compete with her to better the continent more.”
Emi giggled. “Don’t worry, I warned her ahead of time. We’ll both be keeping score.”
“I fully expect to fall in love with you,” Novella said. “I must warn you ahead of time. I can’t imagine a life with you where I don’t.”
Emi felt her cheeks burn and averted her gaze. She back at the half-built semaphores and tried to think of any possible response she could give. What did you say to a statement like that?
“Hey,” Emi said. “May I call you Novi for short?”
“I’ll allow it, if I can call you Em.”
“Novi and Em,” Emi said. “Sounds like a power couple in the making.”
“If that’s what you wish, Em.”
“I would say that I do, Novi.”
They smiled at each other.
Then– a tap at Emi’s shoulder. Pip, shoulder around Lord Lau’s very excited daughter, shouted at them, “C’mon you two!” It’s time to dance!”
“After you, my dear Em.”
Emi and Novella stepped away from the edge of the roof and joined the others in an impromptu dance session. Touma had pulled Reo into the spotlight and forced him into a musical pair, which sparked the rest of the family to move along with them. Even Emi’s parents began to dance together. Even Ms. Khami and Lord Lau of all people began to dance together.
As if the entire tower had trapped in a magic spell, Emi’s family and friends froze before her in this moment of time. For however long she gazed at them, they stayed in place in this moment, like a grand painting with all its vivid strokes of color. All her loved ones gathered here to celebrate the night even in trying times.
In the midst of this scene, Emi could see the future before her. She would raise a family and become a devoted wife and make an impact on the world that only someone already born into privilege and wealth really could. She would give up her entire life to make sure that her descendants had a world to be proud of. She would serve Tsubasa like only a L’Hime could.
These past few weeks had been exhausting, but Emi felt stronger than ever. Finally, somehow, she had become like Beatrice, and it took her until this exact moment to realize it.
She took Novella’s waist and worked her dancing magic.