Stone Over Moon Waters was named for the stone shrines that dotted the thirty-eight islands of Moon. Their purpose has been lost in history and no one knows who carved them.
— Paramol da Jast, Origin of the Moon Shrines
Linsan couldn't move fast enough as she scrambled out of the Glasscoaster. She careened her head to look at an elegant glass and metal arch that soared above her head and crossed the narrow passage of water to the next island over. She was finally in Stone Over Moon Waters at the entrance of the largest city she had ever seen in her life.
There was something about knowing that Stone Over Moon Waters had been built over thirty-eight islands and the colleges from her father's essays and experiencing how every breeze set off a song and everything shone brilliant in the noon light.
The city had been built to demonstrate the arts and it showed. None of the builders were mere squares rising up but curves and colors and shine that made it feel like she had entered the fairy realm in Haladin's Towers of Diamond.
She smiled broadly and closed her eyes, just to feel as the ocean wind blew through the city and strummed along decorations designed to turn wind into horns, strings, and drums. It was disharmonious in many ways, chaotic in others, but there remained a rhythm of music that could not be escaped.
Miska chuckled as she crawled out. “I think she found love. Sorry, Brook, Linsan just had her heart stolen by another.”
Linsan wanted to pull out her violin and play. The city demanded it but so did her quest. She took a long deep and finally caught the salty scent of the ocean blowing past her.
Brook rested her hand on Linsan's shoulder. “You okay?”
Linsan nodded and smiled. “I always dreamed of coming here when I grew up. This is where music grows, the center of my family's life.”
“Hasn't your family always been in Cobbler's End?”
Linsan rolled her eyes and playfully bumped Brook with her hip. “Yes, but my mother has sung here so many times and she would come back with so many amazing stories that sounded… amazing. But just this little bit,” she gestured to the courtyard with a dozen cars and two dozen horses that marked the entrance to the city, “is so much different than what I imagined.”
Brook's eyes softened and she nodded before turning away.
With guilt plucked like the wind-blown sculptures, Linsan tore her attention away from the beauty and focused on her two friends next to the Glasscoaster. “Okay, I'm done marveling for now.”
Brook settled next to her, her light blue dress rippling along Miska's shorts and stained top. She looked at the city but it wasn't joy that painted her face. “We have two days before the sale.”
Miska laughed. “You drove like a spring fury which is why we have so much time. If we're lucky, we beat them here. Too bad this city has so many ways to sneak in.”
Stone Over Moon Waters was officially built over forty-three islands with bridges and constructions linking them together but it also filled a bay and there were as many boats as horses, pedestrians, and vehicles pouring into the city.
A smile almost showed up on Brook's face.
Linsan returned to the buggy and leaned opposite of them. “So, we have time before Palisis. I hope that gives us enough time to find someone who can help us, catch Tabil, and try to rescue Palisis.”
Miska cleared her throat. “Why don't we just go to this place selling it and tell them the violin was stolen?”
Brook shook her head. “Won't work.”
“I was hoping that we somehow missed the obvious. When the tax collector or the sheriff came by, they were always useless for what mattered.”
“Why would they?” Brook asked quietly. “They work for rich people who wouldn't care that the violin was stolen. If anything, they would consider that a spice or a bit of excitement as they showed it off to others.”
“Speaking from experience, Princess?”
Brook glared for a moment. “Daddy never had that much money. We were rich, but not that rich. Lin, how much do you think the violin would sell for?”
A flicker of sadness raced across Linsan's thoughts. She had been thinking about the violin more often as they approached the city. “At least a million cukdins, probably more. The fire that destroyed our lands has to be known by now, so Palisis would fetch more knowing it will probably be the last virginal violin ever made by a Sterlig.”
Waving her gloved hand dismissively at the city, Brook muttered. “That's the problem. The auction house probably already guessed that it was stolen, but they don't care. They get their cut from the sale. The people buying it have more money to burn and no desire to help others with it.”
Linsan dragged her toe in the ground as she tried not to think about how overwhelming their situation.
“As I see it,” Brook continued. “We can tell the auction house, but we need to look like we belong to just get through the door and bring enough influence to stop the sale or at least make it embarrassing enough they hesitate.”
Linsan perked up.
Brook grinned for a moment. “Money is willing to ignore us until we get annoying. Make enough noise or scandal and you have a chance of stopping it.”
Miska leaned against Brook. “And if we don't make enough?”
Brook's smile faded. “Best case? They throw us out and we lose. Worst case? They arrest us and destroy our family's lives.”
An awkward silence stretched out for a long moment.
Linsan let her mind drift through stories and plays she knew about. They had to do something, anything. “We've come this far, I don't want to give up.”
“We have to try,” Brook said and Miska nodded with agreement.
“Then, focus on what we know. We need a place to stay. Brook, do you still want to find an inn to stay at?”
Brook ducked her head and shook her head. Her dark curls bounced off the roof of the Glasscoaster. “N-No… I can't.”
Unsaid was the pain of being banned from her father's bank and the access to her wealth. She confined that she only had about a thousand cukdins left.
Miska hugged her. “I'll go with you. For moral support.”
She looked up with a pained expression. “T-Thank you, but… you probably shouldn't. Remember the last stop?”
Miska's eyes darkened.
Linsan cringed. The event at the village was an uncomfortable reminder that they were only three women traveling alone and Miska was far out of her comfort area. She shook her head as she thought. Then, she remembered a play. “How about as a servant?”
“What!?” explained Brook and Miska.
“Look,” Linsan held up her hands. “It was in the play—”
“No!” Brook said pointing. “Do not tell me the name!”
“Or the history. Or the writer.”
Linsan sheepishly said, “Playwrights. There were two—”
“No! Just tell us the idea.”
“Fine. This ‘completely random idea in my head’ was to dress Miska up as your servant. You said we had to look the part and you know how to act rich. So, you are the leading lady. Play the débutante with questionable tastes.” Linsan gestured to Miska.
“I am not questionable!”
Brook wrapped her arm around Miska's waist and pulled her close. “Sorry, my love. I think here, you are questionable.”
“Fuck you,” Miska said without much spite.
Brook smiled but the mirth didn't reach her eyes.
Linsan cringed. Her idea felt thin and poorly planned, but it was something. “Maybe stop by and see if you can dress her up to look like your servant. I don't think shorts and a shirt with grease stains will pull it off. Then, a room appropriate for your position instead of the cheapest place that won't rob us like we originally planned.”
Brook sighed. “That will eat up most of our money. A good room here would be about a hundred cuks a day.”
Linsan winced as she watched Brook carefully. “There will be a Ralonix branch here. I can stop by there. My parents said they would leave me some money, it might be a hundred or more, but that would give us more time.”
Her friend rested her head against Miska's shoulder but said nothing. Her grip tightened on her lover's.
“We know we only need a few days. I might be able to busk or we can figure out how to get more money while we're here. But having Miska as your servant would also protect her from being attacked for being tribal or banned from entering buildings because she would serving her lady. I'm guessing they will disapprove but let you?”
Brook nodded. “Yes, they will disapprove. Sneers, comments, and attitude. I've seen it all. I've… done it all. But Miska would have to be very servile and I would have to make a show of making her do petty things to sell it.”
Miska made a face. Then she took a deep breath and then grinned. “Fine, but after this, Princess gets to be my servant for a week.”
Brook's head snapped up as she stared at Miska. At the blonde's playful grin, a blush darkened her cheeks.
Miska leaned forward. “And you have to do every little thing I tell you to do.”
In a matter of seconds, Brook's entire face was red and she squirmed.
Miska turned to Linsan. “For that, I'll kiss her toes and her ass,” she announced with a grin.
Linsan looked to Brook who continued to squirm. “Could you do it?”
Brook gulped and nodded sharply. “Y-Yeah… it might… I think it will work. We will use up most of our money to do it, but it would get us invited into places none of us could reach alone.”
“It sounds risky.” Miska shook her head.
Linsan grinned. “I'm sorry, just an idea.”
“No, no,” Miska said holding up her free hand. “It's a good idea. But never tell me which play it game from or who wrote it.”
Linsan held up her hand. “Deal.”
“So, dress me up in a damn dress, get an inn. You'll go… to the bank and get more money. Try to find out what you can and meet us at the inn?”
“Plan,” Linsan said.
Brook sighed and then straightened. She tugged on her dress to make sure it was smooth and then headed toward the entrance of a building with a “Welcome” sign on it. The center would have maps of the city along with places to stay and their prices. “Come along, servant.”
Miska followed while making obscene gestures to Brook's backside.