“You wouldn’t happen to know a girl named Klyra, would you?” Chroma asked Lum as she stepped up to the front desk to turn in her student workbook. Lum was keeping his own leather-bound, but he’d waited in line with her, nonetheless.
Lum shook his head, his bowl-cut hair bouncing off his temples. “No one in the Express class. What was it? Klura? Kleara?”
“I’m not actually sure myself. I was thinking it must be Kleara from the spelling, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Klayra or Kluhra.”
Lum shrugged as they continued down the wooden halls, which were lined with more wooden doors and half-opened wooden blinds in the wooden window frames. Chroma’s let her eye wander, taking in details she had always taken for granted. Details of the school she would be leaving.
“Do you know what class she’s in?” Lum prompted.
“No,” Chroma admitted as they joined the crowd shoving through a pair tall double-doors into the mess hall. The wooden doors were coated with intricate geometric designs from bottom to top, along with the kingdom insignia in the center: a pentagonal coat of arms, with lines from each point of the pentagon extending to the wave-bordered circle in the center. The five sections surrounding the watery circle held the effigies of dolphins, ravens, octopi, elephants, and apes. In the center circle was the image of a single orca. The cast-iron door handles were shaped like waves.
“It’s odd that she isn’t in the advanced class. There are translators in there we could have been paired up with,” Chroma pointed out. “I don’t see why we would get a bad translator.”
“Maybe there’s an ultra-secret, super advanced class that no one knows about, and you’re getting the best translator in existence,” Lum suggested.
Chroma didn’t smile.
“Sorry, I know this must be stressful.”
“I’m just nervous. Flor doesn’t seem super welcoming.
“You’ve had how many conversations with her?”
“Just the one, but—”
“Then I wouldn’t draw conclusions just yet.”
“It’s the lack of conversation that—”
Chroma was interrupted by a unified blowing of wooden flutes at the front of the mess hall. Six adults, three men and three women, clad in ceremonial black-and-white plaid vests and kilts were harmoniously playing an eerie melody, which sounded like the call of an orca. They were situated on a raised, wooden stage at the other end of mess hall. Most people were already present and seated at long-tables beneath the semi-cylindrical roof, and they all ceased conversation when they heard the flutes. The song of the flutes appeared to grow louder as the crowd grew quieter, and Chroma hurriedly pushed her way through the standing portions the crowd, making her way towards the front, where a single, short table sat parallel to the stage and perpendicular to the other tables. Being in the center of the room, it was one of the only tables free of the rays of reddish sunset let in by the windows. Flor sat there, back straight and feet together, looking ahead of her. Her long, red hair was done up in a sleek bun that hadn’t been there before, and she appeared even better groomed than the last time Chroma had met her (if that was even possible).
The flute melody continued as Chroma made her way over to the table and sat beside Flor, who didn’t turn to face her. Flor, like the rest of the crowd, was now humming along with the song. Chroma tried, but her voice caught in her throat.
When the music died down, a round of applause broke out. Flor and Chroma didn’t clap or whoop as the flute players bowed and existed via the stairs on either side of the stage. They stood guard by each flight. A door in the back center of the stage opened, letting in a rectangle of red light.
Two figures emerged, one man and one woman, both hefty, tall, and adorned in black robes patterned with white waves. Long, braided black hair and pale faces held pale blue eyes that eyed the crowd with prideful sparkles. Chroma and Flor both watched them curiously, and Flor briefly glanced over at Chroma. The entire crowd was silent.
“We are gathered here to make history,” the woman announced, stepping forward. “I don’t need to remind you all what this graduation, and the graduates’ journey, entails, but it is our duty to keep you always mindful of the consequences.
“Being the first people to sail the sea in a thousand years was no small feat, nor was being the first civilization to make contact and establish relations with the endless others out there. But we paid a price for our openness with others, and now we aim to pay our debt and stave off the threat of the March. What will be truly impressive is finding the solution out at sea. Allies willing to defend, hosts willing to take settlers, scientists willing to share technology…” She let the words hang in the air. “The possibilities are limitless, but urgent.”
The man stepped forward and the woman stepped back. “These three first graduates of the Travel Academy…” he announced, sweeping a hand towards Chroma and Flor, who sat alone at the center table.
He didn’t seem to notice that there were only two, and he continued, “…will make first contact with the dangers and blessings of the world beyond the known islands. Led by our daughter, Princess Chroma, they will together blaze the trail of discovery so that others may follow. They are the most talented of the academy: bold, and willing to risk their lives in uncharted territory to save their homeland. All of Cambia owes that an enormous debt, which we will pay by celebrating all their victories and forgiving their mistakes for years to come. We will owe all our prosperity to them. And even if the March come with a thousand fire-ships, we will struggle until the last of us remains, and struggle in the name of these three! Princess Chroma!” he bellowed, holding out one hand to indicate to Chroma to stand. She did as the relatively small crowd present cheered like a deafening stadium. Her eyes shone, and a small smile was playing at her lips, a small blush playing at her cheeks. “Born leader, animal-tamer, and bold adventurer.”
“Flor Rosa!” the queen proclaimed, holding out a parallel hand as Flor stood from the bench, stock still and expressionless among the cheering. “Diligent and talented, top of her class, Face-changer and sailor extraordinaire.”
“And Klyra Rubia!” the king finished, not holding out a hand. The demeanor of the king and queen didn’t change, and they still wore forced, triumphant smiles; but their eyes darted back and forth across the room, anxiously scanning the crowd for the third member of the First Contact group before finally settling on each other.
“Klyra Rubia!” the queen tried again. The crowd was beginning to notice the presence of only two bodies up front, and were falling silent. The silence slowly allowed one voice to be heard above the others:
“Excuse me, sorry. First Contact traveler coming through. Hi, yeah, sorry, I’m just going to squeeze on in here…Pardon me—oh, sorry about that. Heads up, coming through…”
The crowd at the front shifted aside as a short, slightly chubby girl pushed her way to the front. She was dressed in the same black and white clothes as everyone else in the crowd, but wore in addition to that a thick, heavy, tanish-yellow coat that stretched just down past her waist. Her blonde hair was cut very short, to the point where it was capable of standing up in a spikey, tussled manner of its own accord.
She grinned at the king and queen and waved. “Sorry I’m late, please continue, your highnesses.” She went to stand between Chroma and Flor, who both gave her shocked looks. Chroma glanced away awkwardly, but Flor narrowed her eyes for another moment before assuming her previous position.
The king and queen looked irritated, with the king’s upper left eyebrow twitching involuntarily, but they continued as if nothing had happened.
“Klyra Rubia, the finest translator Cambia has ever seen, savvy negotiator, and resourceful problem-solver,” the king finished.
“We honor these graduates for their achievements and hard work,” the queen continued. “But also for their future sacrifice and success. Cambia, these are your finest adolescents, the first generation of well-trained explorers that will navigate the world, and secure our future. Thank you.”
The crowd erupted into applause as the flutes played the king and queen offstage. Klyra’s confident expression hadn’t changed. Neither had Flor’s upset one, nor Chroma’s worried one.