The three of us clinked our glasses together and downed the contents in one go. The various hired hands that had contributed to the successful concert joined our toast, raising their own mugs. A trio of beautiful girls in the barmaid’s attire of the Serene Ezov scurried around with jugs of beer, refilling those mugs which were empty. Ours, too were refilled in due time. Elysium glanced at me with a look of concern.
“You doing okay, Glint? You don’t have to drink another glass.”
“C’mon, Elysium. I’m not a child. I can hold my drink.”
“You’re still a child to me. It hasn’t even been two years since we picked you up.”
“Oh, stop teasing him, Ely. Can’t you see you’re hurting his pride?”
“I don’t want to hear that from you, Ros. Don’t you still fuss over his clothing?”
“That’s different. That’s a matter of presentability.”
“And this is a matter of making sure he doesn’t collapse, dead-drunk.”
I rolled my eyes and made a show of downing my refilled glass of beer. The cold liquid sloshed around in my mouth before descending down my throat, leaving a warm feeling in its wake. I scraped my tongue against my teeth, trying to dispel some of the bitterness from the aftertaste. It had only been a month since Elysium had finally given me the permission to start drinking, after nearly two years of being in her employ, and I had yet to become used to the taste of the drink. I was indifferent to the drink itself – I neither liked nor disliked the taste of beer. But I drank in order to show Elysium that I was no longer a child – that she no longer had to spend so much time looking out for me. I could see it in her actions, and in the exchange that had just occurred – she still fretted about me, even though she claimed to acknowledge my adulthood.
Seeing my empty glass, Elysium and Rosalind smiled at each other, cutting off their banter, and emptied theirs as well. One of the Ezov girls – Jasmine – moved up to us and refilled our glasses instantly. I nodded in appreciation. They were all new hires in this branch, and were eager to make a good first impression. I knew all of them by name, as I had been responsible for teaching them the details of their new jobs. The task had been pawned off on me by Elysium, along with most of the other jobs that dealt with business administration for the Ezov. Elysium had, about half a year prior, declared that I was ready to take over the business and logistics side of things, leaving her to focus on preparations for the concerts instead. I would have complained, if not for the fact that I knew first-hand how much work was involved in preparing the concerts, and therefore I was more than willing to take some of that off Elysium’s shoulders.
While Elysium and Rosalind descended into idle chatter, one of the hired hands who helped set up the stage came walking towards us. He was one of the group that had been hand-picked by Hager Bainel, and had helped us with setting up the stage on numerous occasions. Elysium, who had more contact with the concert-related help than I, spoke up as he approached.
“Ah, Adam. Good work with the security detail. I hope there weren’t any disturbances?”
“Nothing of note. We did have the usual couple of people trying to skip the line for Miss Rosalind’s handshake, but nothing particularly concerning. Anyway, just came over to compliment the kid. That was an impressive light show you put on.”
Elysium ruffled my hair, causing me to duck away, but I nodded my head gratefully, accepting Adam’s praise. While my ability to use light magic was still a secret to the world at large, those that worked for us knew of it out of necessity. Well, the men that Bainel had sent were all of good character, and we had Bainel’s assurance that they could keep a secret, so it wasn’t all that serious for them to know.
“Ah, but after this is the last concert, isn’t it?”
Elysium and Rosalind looked to each other, sharing a meaningful glance. Rosalind answered first.
“Yeah. The next concert will be the last one in our initial tour plan, marking the end of this four-year tour.”
“So what’s next for you guys? Going back home to Monspiere?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it. What do you think, Ely?”
“Well, I do have a plan drafted out for another tour around the country, but nothing’s firmed up yet. Besides, it might be nice to go back to Monspiere and take a short break. I’m sure the townspeople would love to see you again.”
“So you’ve already been making plans for the future.”
“Well, of course I have. It’s my job as your manager, after all.”
“Mmmmm… I guess I’ll think about it a little, too. Only after this next concert, though.”
“Of course. This is the last one. We’ve got to make sure it’s an enormous success.”
Adam chimed in here.
“Speaking of which, it’s your first time holding a concert twice in the same city, no? Are you sure people will come watch it again?”
“Oh, people will come. Trust me on that. We’re going to make a big deal out of the fact that this might be the last chance to see Rosalind sing. Of course, it isn’t, but it’ll serve to drive up demand for the show. And we’re in Reissvault – the capital of the Mercynth Empire. One show’s nowhere near enough to satisfy the sheer number of people in this city.”
“Well, Miss Elysium, if you say so, then I’m certain it’s the case.”
“Yep. So be prepared to work like a madman – our next venue is three times larger than the one we just performed in.”
“Yes, well, I’ve been working like a madman since the day I met you, so I suppose nothing’s going to change, is it?”
With that, he raised his mug to us in a toast and sauntered off to join the other men in their revels. Meanwhile, a quiet atmosphere had settled between the three of us, a bubble of silence amidst the sea of noise that filled the Ezov. Rosalind was the first one to speak.
“…What to do from now on, huh…”
“Ros, no need to overthink it. You should just do what you want to do. I’ll make it happen.”
“In that case, what I want to do is find whatever you’re looking for.”
“Ros… You know that’s basically impossible.”
Ah, the mysterious feeling of loss that Elysium said she felt. She spoke about it sometimes, how she often felt like something was missing, that she should be looking for something, but that she couldn’t recall what exactly it was. I knew for a fact that she kept her eyes and ears peeled as we travelled for anything that could potentially jog her memory, but so far her search had not turned up any results. She was no closer to figuring out what she was searching for than the day she had started – all she knew was that whatever she was looking for was something extremely important to her. I couldn’t begin to understand how it must have felt to search for something without knowing what it was, so I didn’t try, and simply tried my best to support her in her efforts, informing her whenever I saw or heard about something out of the ordinary.
“Ely, you can’t give up. It’s not impossible. I’m sure whatever you’re looking for is out there somewhere.”
“The problem is in the ‘whatever’ and the ‘somewhere’, Ros. Four years – no, five years I’ve been searching, keeping an eye out, paying attention to anything and everything that could be a clue. Nothing. We’ve travelled all over the Empire – still nothing. Even if it’s out there, it’s most certainly not in this country.”
“Then you simply have to go to another country.”
“And there you go again with the impossible suggestions.”
The Mercynth Empire – though it was now nowhere near large enough to be called an empire, having declined immensely in the last hundred years – was an isolationist country. Travel in and out of the country was strictly regulated, with stringent requirements associated with attaining the necessary documentation. If we were a merchant, perhaps one with the amount of wealth that Hager Bainel possessed, we might be able to attain a temporary permission to leave, but for ordinary people, and even for most of the nobility, leaving the shores of this country was an impossible dream.
“I’m sure we could make it work. Maybe ask Bainel?”
“No. Bainel wouldn’t agree. It would be nothing but unprofitable risk to send us off to another land, particularly with no guarantee of our safety at sea or our subsequent return. There is no reason for him to support us on such a venture. He may be a friend, but he is a merchant first.”
I had learned from Ruth, my magic tutor, that she had entered the country illegally when she first came here, only receiving travel documents afterward. This implied that there was indeed some route to get in and out of the country without permission, but I elected to stay silent on this, as Rosalind was as yet unaware of Ruth’s survival and of her identity as my teacher. Besides, even if there were an illegal route out, it would be impossible for us to use it – the entire country knew Rosalind’s face. She would be recognised long before we could set out to sea.
Elysium placed a hand on Rosalind’s shoulder.
“Ros, I’m glad you’re trying to think of ways to help me. But I’ve resigned myself to my fate. I won’t give up on finding that ‘something’, but it’s inefficient to look for it without leads. I’ve made my decision long ago. I’m going to help you fulfill your dream. If, in the course of that, I find what I’m searching for, then perfect. If not, then, well, I’m fine with that, too. You’re a precious friend to me, Ros, and I’d rather stay with you and help you shine than to chase after the vapour trails of something that might not even be out there.”
“Ely, I – mmph!”
Elysium took Rosalind’s glass of beer and pressed it to her lips, forcing Rosalind to take a large gulp.
“That’s enough melancholy for one night, Ros. This is supposed to be a celebration – of a successful concert, and of a hope for subsequent success. So drink, and laugh, and dream, and make merry. Today is not a day for heavy thoughts. That goes for you, too, Glint. If you want to convince me you’re an adult, prove it by showing me how you drink like one – mmph!”
I rolled my eyes and downed my drink. Meanwhile, Rosalind was presently engaged in the act of returning Elysium’s gesture, forcing Elysium to drink from the same glass with a pout. When Elysium’s lips touched the cup from which Rosalind had drunk, I saw Rosalind’s cheeks flush red for a brief moment, as though drunk on something far more potent than alcohol.