Third Chapter: Ramos

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The city walls of Ramos glittered in the weak sun that sifted through the afternoon's coat of clouds. Five times as tall as Iris, the walls were covered in murals of shattered glass. While the Kaerents, short-tempered after three weeks of traveling, proffered papers and argued with the guards at the gate, Iris stared hungrily at the vibrant scenes. To her left was a depiction of the Rose and the Moon, though it took her a moment to pair the embracing couple with the story every child knows.

The mural was both breathtaking and heartbreaking. The Moon, pictured as a slender man with long hair and pale skin glowing somewhere between gold and silver, held the Rose tight against his chest, even though blood fell from the slender thorn-cut slashes on his skin. The Rose, with vibrant red hair and a green dress that wilted to brown at the bottom, leaned into him, one of her legs already crumbling into dust. Around them, splinters of white-gold glass formed the starburst tears of the purple night sky mourning the first and final embrace of the unlucky lovers.

The mural on the right was calmer, evoking serenity and nostalgia rather than melancholy. Though the glass shards were just as sharp, softer hues of blue and green painted an idyllic river scene with graceful herons and swaying reeds. A swirl of darker blue was either the lazy current or a coy river spirit, and two children in a boat fished with clumsily bound rods. Though Iris had never been fishing, she could almost hear the lapping of the river against the muddy shore and feel the sun tickling her scalp as she floated downriver...

Somebody clapped, and Iris blinked herself back into the world. The Kaerents were coming back towards the wagon while the guards cranked open the old gate. One of the Kaerents clapped again and shouted something Iris didn't quite catch- but soon the girls were scrambling out of the wagon and it became clear they were expected to walk.

Iris had never seen the capital before, though of course she had marveled at the glasswork that came from the Isle of Aira, the twin city of Ramos with its famous cathedral that lanced at the sky from about a mile offshore. Her heart hurt as she recalled the round iridescent jars Mother Hall collected, with their butterfly patterns and rounded lead lids. One day, Mother Hall had said, they would travel together to Aira so Iris could commission her own spirit-lantern or storm rod, and Iris had always feared that day, because it would have meant Mother Hall thought she was no longer an apprentice, but a Candlemaiden ready to set off on her own.

That day would never come now. The thought scared Iris, because it shouldn't have been true. She could still return to Mother Hall after this wretched schooling, and they could still come to Ramos and Aira. It wouldn't be her first time seeing the cities, but Iris would still find it overwhelming and wondrous.

In her bag, the mice chittered, and Iris felt a tear bud up in her eye. The thought scared her because it was true. Somehow she knew she'd never see Mother Hall again, that she'd never be let back into her old life. Whoever she was, whoever she was going to be- it was all different now, and she couldn't change it back.

***

The Kaerents first led the girls through snaking streets of the city at a wearying pace. Iris barely had time to admire the houses, which were the inverse of her villages' in that the walls were plain colors while window and door frames were decorated, or to study the people's clothing, which, like the houses, was a bit the same and a bit bewildering.

But the city was hilly, and after a while of walking up steep streets, the Kaerents stopped to argue with each other and point in various directions. Passersby gave the girls and their gesticulating guardians a wide berth, though they weren't afraid to openly stare. Spinning in place, Iris returned the favor, her eyes wide wide wide to soak in all of the city.

The houses were all snug up against each other, each doorframe a riot of color that mirrored the whole of the street. Magenta leaned against azure, which pushed against orange, which clashed with the deep green of its neighbor. The rooftops were staggered, some jutting above others, some coming forward over porches that shaded gossiping women and lazy cats judging those that walked by. Children ran down the streets, tailed at times by high-flying kites, laughing and shouting and darting between tsk-ing parents who carried baskets at their hips.

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