Elektra Penzier’s brown face glowed red as she examined the captions hanging from a string around Scarlett’s workstation. Her heels clicked softly as she followed the string. Still dripping with chemical wash, the captions were not yet ready to present to Hub Publishing, but it seemed Elektra was unable to wait any longer.
It was the eve of the next publication. The captions had yet to be turned into copper plates and still had to be organized in line with the articles. That meant they needed to be dry in less.
At the image of Kat on the moss-covered bridge, Elektra paused. “These are perfect.”
Scarlett had nearly chewed off an entire nail waiting for Elektra to say something. “Yeah?”
“Yes. I can hear their history, smell their environments – and the contrast and lighting make them pop from the paper.” Elektra waved her trusty pen at the images. “Put these on a drying rack and meet me in my office. We need to affirm that the correct articles and images are together before everything goes to print. You’re joining the publishing team.”
Aleander made a startled choking sound in the back of his throat when he saw the fresh cup of coffee and pile of pastries on his desk. He glanced around the room until his eyes fell on Scarlett, who waved tiredly from her rickety desk. “Y-You’re back!”
“M’back,” Scarlett mumbled. “Cruiser was a time saver.”
Aleander held out the plate of pastries.
Scarlett waved them off. “I ate.”
Pastry hanging firmly from his mouth, Aleander picked up his coffee cup and headed over. “D-Did you hear the news?”
Internally clenching, for Scarlett assumed the “news” concerned Kat’s epic tirade, she failed to hear clicking heels until it was too late.
“Scarlett!” waved a peppery Elektra Penzier from across the room. Though she had been there all night and morning getting the latest issue out, she was lively. “Come to my office, won’t you? We have some things to discuss.”
Scarlett grabbed her flasher bag, gave Aleander a waning smile, and followed Elektra. She had a feeling her bridge assignment was going to be the last she had with Hub Publishing. Kat had seen to the end of her career.
Once inside the office, Elektra jumped right into the discussion as if she and Scarlett had been talking the whole way there. “I know you’ve just returned, but we need you to start captioning for the next issue. I’m pairing you with Aleander. He’s been working for the past five years on a special assignment. Now that he’s been given the go-ahead to finalize his research and publish, we can send him and a captioner on location.”
Scarlett hadn’t been offered a seat, but she slid down into one. There were obvious challenges to keeping her employed but Elektra had not so much as breathed a word about Kat’s visitation or the information learned because of it.
“So,” Scarlett said dumbly. “I’m not fired?”
Elektra’s eyebrows crashed together. “You’re the best captioner we’ve ever had. Why would we want to lose you?”
Hub Publishing wasn’t going to fire her, and if no one was going to bring up Kat’s visit, Scarlett wouldn’t either. “What’s the story?”
“As I’m sure you are aware, the government has been excavating certain parts of southern Naiaca for some time. Aleander used to work in inventory, cataloging uncovered artifacts. You know, pottery, coins, artwork – those sorts of things. A while back, his former manager found what he thought might be the Palace of Phaedria. Turns out–he did!”
Scarlett brought her thumb to her mouth. She began chewing the nail in contemplation. The Phaedrians had been gray-eyed sorcerers of the southern region, who had ignited a long and costly battle thousands of years ago. They were never defeated but as Mr. Faunus of bucolic Sassini had said, escaped as one colony across the Ghost Sea. Besides the City of Phaedria, which was pillaged but relatively preserved, all evidence of the Phaedrian rule had been mostly destroyed. No Naiacan wanted to remember them.
“Which Phaedria?” asked Scarlett.
Scarlett’s thumb fell from her lips. “The first Phaedria? They found the first Phaedria’s palace? There’s hardly any record of her at all.”
“Aleander knows it best,” said Elektra. “The way he describes it, it’s as if all the historians were too terrified to make mention of her.”
Scarlett rested her elbows on her knees. “Are they sure it’s Phaedria the Enchantress?”
“It’s been verified. The government will announce their general findings next week but they promised Hub Publishing control of the in-depth story. We have Aleander to thank for that.” Elektra began rapidly tapping the tip of her pen on her desk. “We loved your work on the bridges, especially Hastian’s Bridge at dusk. Yes,” she sighed happily. “This month’s publication will sell well, but the story of Phaedria is going to be huge the world over. We want the best writing and the best captions. Now, if you’re too tired, we can–”
“I’m ready to go.”
Elektra pulled out stiff brown slips of paper from a drawer and handed them over as though she had expected this outcome. “The palace is just outside the City of Phae. You and Aleander will fly there tonight. Here are your airship tickets for there and back. I’ve already reserved a spot for your cruiser in the cargo area. Hub Publishing will advance you the money to buy a waterproof flasher as well as the plates of film and bulbs that go along with it. Your private classes are already paid for and will begin–”
“Waterproof?” Scarlett interrupted. “Classes?”
“Yes.” Elektra’s eyes were set on the far wall and brimming with excitement. “What do you think of The Sunken Palace of Phaedria? Good title?“
“Sunken?” Scarlett’s eyes widened. “It’s underwater? You want me to take captions underwater?”
Elektra’s eyes refocused on Scarlett. “That’s not a problem, is it?”
Scarlett could hear Kat’s vehement protests already. “No. No problem at all.”
Kat’s lips were a thin line as she watched Scarlett pack fresh clothes. “Why are they sending you out again?”
“Because it’s my job.”
That answer displeased Kat. Her lips became a frown. “Where are they sending you? The Five Nations? The Gryphon Isles? No, no. Silly me! Must be the Qoman Empire.”
A few days ago, Kat’s condescending tone would have enraged Scarlett. Not anymore. That day on the bridge changed everything. There was no reason to fight.
Scarlett swung the bag over her shoulder and slipped out of the guest bedroom. “Sassi and I are leaving Quinvillu.”
Kat’s jaw clenched. She followed Scarlett with a frustrated, “Why won’t you tell me where you’re going?”
Silence met Kat’s question.
“Fine then! I guess I’ll just go and bother Ms. Penzier again since you have no intention of telling your family where you’re going. I need to have a talk with that woman anyway. Clearly, she doesn’t realize how dangerous this is for you–”
Scarlett whirled around so fast Kat stopped talking mid-sentence. “This is never going to change, Kat, and I want you to understand that it’s okay with me. All these years, we’ve been looking at this as one drawn out, epic battle. This isn’t something we have to fight. This is something we have to navigate. Time is the only enemy worth fighting. You talking to Elektra is only going to make this harder on yourself. She’s not your sister. She’s not your family. If you talk to her the way you talk to me, you’re just going to embarrass yourself. Let the woman do her job and let me do mine.”
Kat stepped back. “This will never be okay with me.”
Aleander was at the rails. Scarlett joined him and leaned over the hull. The water was a dull silver, typical of the Ghost Sea. Coastal wind was cold, so she zipped up Timon’s leather jacket and made herself ready for the long haul. There was a lot between Quinvillu and the City of Phae. If she waited inside where it was warm and quiet, she wouldn’t see any of it. Scarlett refused to miss a thing.
“They put my cruiser between two fancy roamers,” she told Aleander. “It looks so small. Like what I must look like when I stand between my brother and sister.”
Aleander smiled, but he was gray in the face.
“Are you unwell?” Scarlett asked.
“I’ve n-never liked flying,” said Aleander. “Or driving. Motion sickn-ness.”
Scarlett knew now why Aleander was outside. It was the best place to get sick. She looked at his hunched form and sallow complexion and thought how brave a man he was. Certainly, he would rather stay at his desk with his nose pressed to paper than do something that would make him ill for hours. “For shame, Aleander. I’ve never been on an airship before. Maybe I won’t like it either.”
A genuine smile erupted over Aleander’s face. “You w-will. You’re an adventurer.”
Scarlett did like flying. She liked it so much even Aleander puking next to her for nearly the whole flight didn’t lessen her euphoric spirit. When they disembarked in the City of Phae, Scarlett revved Sassi into gear and zipped off the airship before any of the roamers.
Category: Adventure, Fantasy, Self-Publishing, Uncategorized, WritingTags: Adventure, airships, archaeology, ebook, exploration, Fantasy, femaleprotagonist, freebook, motorcycle, New Author, personofcolor, secondworld, Self-Publishing, steampunk, Writing
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