2- In Which Girls Make Small Talk

The Kingdom landed just outside the city of Cerah. Phinn reported that he spoke to his mother (Elena guessed it was one of those days where Anya was ignoring her completely) and she was going to stay on board, which wasn't necessarily a surprise.

Elena made sure to compliment him on his uniform. Although it was a little wrinkly, it made him look very handsome, though the flashy red wasn't exactly his style. Turner was looking quite stylish as well. The two of them definitely didn't look like brothers because the only visual similarity that they shared was their noses, but they were two very attractive young men, that was for sure. Luckily, the two of them mostly took after their mothers—Turner's mother was a gorgeous woman and, although Anya's beauty wasn't flamboyantly obvious (compared to most of the other King's wives), there was something incredibly natural about her.

"Maybe it's just as well she's not coming along," Phinn went on, apparently still talking about his mother. "It's not like Hayden even likes her. Or even knows her. Right?"

"Right," Elena agreed.

In the end, when Elena found it was time to decide what color she was going to wear, she discovered that decision was out of her hands. Phinn didn't generally have women on board, let alone have nice clothes to loan them. When she had first boarded, they had stopped in the closest city and she had gotten herself a few things, but nothing that was nice or fancy enough to be worn to a wedding.

So she had to raid Anya's closet. And Anya didn't exactly have a wide selection of nice or fancy clothing. In fact, there wasn't really anything that would be suitable for a wedding, so while Turner and Phinn were all gentlemanly looking, Elena was dressed in a plain and unremarkable brown dress that definitely didn't fit her. Thankfully, there were still a few more hours before they had to start gathering, so Elena politely requested they go shopping. Both men recoiled at the suggestion, but she had asked so nicely that they couldn't decline.

It wasn't as if Elena was a particularly picky shopper. She'd just go into the first store they came across, and the first thing she tried on that she was even mildly satisfied with, she'd take. It was safe to assume that money wasn't really an issue.

When she promised Turner that was how she was going to make her selection, he basically laughed in her face. "We'll take you to a tailor," he said. "They'll make you something."

"Make something?" Elena repeated. "Is there time for that?"

"You get to cut to the front of the line," said Turner. "After all, you're Phinn's date. Technically, you could tell the tailor to stop working on Emma's wedding gown and make your dress. That's how important you are now."

"Shut up, Turner," Phinn snapped.

"Is that true?" Elena asked Phinn.

"I don't think so," Phinn grumbled.

"Cause…I'm pretty sure…is our authority higher than Hayden's?" Turner wondered.

"I'm pretty sure Hayden's is higher than yours, actually," Elena pointed out.

"Okay, that's true, then," said Turner. "So they'd finish the wedding dress before yours."

"I wouldn't try to get ahead of the wedding dress anyway," Elena said, shaking her head.

"So," Turner continued, "Emma's authority is higher than yours right now, Elena. But, if you were currently married to Phinn, then your authority would be higher than hers. But then once she married Hayden, her authority would be higher again. But not higher than Phinn's. But, technically, I guess it is, since Hayden's authority is higher than Phinn's."

"Turner, shut up," Phinn repeated, sounding really annoyed for no other reason other than Turner was just talking a lot.

This was something Elena wanted to know more about, though. She gently put her hand on Phinn's shoulder to calm him down and then asked Turner, "The seven of you all have the same amount of authority, right?"

"Why would our authority be any different?" Turner asked.

"Because of age, I mean."

"Oh. No. That doesn't change anything. It used to be true, though. The King delegates that kind of stuff, and when he told us all we had to fight each other for the Clouds, he evened it all out to make it fair."

"So…when one of you becomes King, you could randomly decide the order of who gets the most amount of authority?" Elena questioned.

"Scary, isn't it?" Turner said, raising both his eyebrows.

"Yeah, a little bit," Elena said, thinking about how certain Sons had grudges against other ones and might be inclined to change the balance of things if they became King.

Elena had been to Cerah only once, but she never actually saw the city. They had to rush to the train station and leave right away. All she knew about it was that it was the Imperial City, and anything else she knew about it could only be inferred. It was probably one of the biggest cities, it was probably heavily populated with important people, and most people there were probably very rich.

They were picked up by a chauffeur in a car with darkened windows. It was likely necessary because they were high profile visitors—with all the guests coming to the city at one time, it was vital that people didn't gawk. People would know that the Sons were in the city, and apparently it was slightly unpredictable what might happen as a result. Since they could obviously see the Kingdom of Storms outside the city, they knew for a fact that at least Phinn was somewhere, and they might be looking for him.

When Turner said they needed to get a dress made for the wedding, the driver did not argue and took them into the heart of the city. There were large gates with an enormous crowd of people in front, and several soldiers in cumbersomely elaborate burgundy uniforms pushing them aside. They absolutely knew someone important had just arrived and they tried to get to the car. Elena felt like a celebrity, even though no one knew about her (she was only famous by association).

Once the gates closed behind them, everything suddenly felt very quiet. Elena peered out the windows and it looked like a small city within the city, surrounded by protective walls. There were large buildings with tall spires, so it looked like the Kingdoms—except connected to the ground, of course. Turner explained to her that he had only been there a few times but he was too young to remember. It was a place that was normally off-limits to the Sons, just like the Kingdom of Clouds.

The driver took them up the road and behind one of the larger towers to a large building connected in the back. As the driver got out of the car and ran to open the door for them, Phinn pointed and made a passing remark that this was likely where she could get a dress made.

"We have to do this first?" Turner sighed to himself as he got out, looking around at all the buildings he could see. "I kind of wanted to explore…"

"You can go, if you want," Elena told him. "You can go too, Phinn. I'll be all right on my own."

She knew he didn't want to stay for it. "I'm going to see if anyone else is here yet, okay?" he said.

"You're going to socialize?" Turner inquired, practically falling over at the thought.

"Going to see if anyone knows anything about Hunt, all right?" Phinn aggressively corrected.

"That makes more sense," said Turner. "You sure, Elena?"

"Yeah, go ahead," she urged.

Phinn looked at her kind of awkwardly. Then he raised an eye to Turner to see if he was watching. This was something he did a lot—he did not like public displays of affection whatsoever. To get sweet physical contact from him was extremely rare, but the chance of getting any whatsoever during the entire wedding was incredibly unlikely merely because Phinn didn't want other people to see. He had a hard enough time with even maintaining eye contact or giving a compliment when other people around.

She didn't push him. If they were alone, he might have done something simple. Like a hug or a kiss on the cheek or something. But, of course he was thinking about anyone watching.

"See you," she said, reassuring him that it was already that he didn't do anything affectionate as he left.

"I'll come back soon, okay?" he said quietly, like it was a secret he was keeping from Turner.

"Okay," she said, nodding.

He went to the driver and uttered something to him. Turner, who was leaning on the car (and not paying attention at all), noticed that Phinn was getting inside, so he said a quick goodbye to Elena and climbed in as well.

As the car pulled out and away, Elena realized that she now had to be the one to decide the color of the dress.

She went inside the small building to be faced with an enormous room that seemed to have every different shade of cloth lining the walls. For a few seconds, she only stood in stunned silence, staring up around at the shelves and shelves of material and, after getting a closer look, she found that there were all kinds of different fabrics as well.

There were machines and tools and small stools cluttered about as well. The amount of cloth made it seem large and majestic, but the tiny platform in the middle of the room made it seem small and personal.

Although the room was circular, there was an archway off to the side with only a curtain in front of it. She approached the archway, hearing voices on the other side. It sounded like two women arguing once she got close enough. And, after a moment's contemplation, she decided she didn't want to intervene on an argument so she was going to back up and wait outside, but then the curtain flung open and—there was Sage, stopping mid-yell upon seeing Elena, and nearly gasping out loud.

Sage was the King's first daughter, and his fifth child. She and Turner were nearly identical (because their mothers were identical) with their bright blond hair and sky blue eyes, though she was much shorter and, oddly, more boyish. When Elena had first met her, her hair was very short but, over the course of their adventures, it got some length. Apparently, she didn't cut it at all in the month they had been apart, because now it appeared almost a girlishly short length, like it was intentionally styled to be pretty.

And Sage really was quite pretty. Elena had known all along that Sage had the potential to be pretty and, suddenly, she was. This may have been because of the hair style, which was further "girled up" with the blue ribbon tied around her head. Or maybe it was the slight hint of make-up that Elena was certain she would never see on Sage (until today).

But, then, it was probably the dress.

Sage generally wore baggy clothes that were much too large for her and did not compliment her figure at all. But, now she had a snug, form-fitted dress that really showed her off, and displayed her nearly flawless ballerina shape. It was the same crystal blue as her ribbon, and was the color of the man's uniform she always wore. It went all the way to the floor and it looked amazing on her.

Elena almost didn't recognize who she was.

For a second, a smile flashed on Sage's face, though she quickly hid it. "Oh," she said, putting on arm across the front of herself and turning slightly red. "You."

"Sage," Elena said simply, unable to articulate anything less ridiculous sounding.

The next person to fly from behind the curtain was Ryder, who was obviously the one Sage was currently battling. Ryder, however, was much more enthusiastic about seeing Elena, and gleefully gave her a hug as soon as she saw her.

Ryder embraced her femininity much more than her older sister. She had short, black hair and friendly, brown eyes. The last time they had been together, Ryder was looking a little ragged, but while they had been apart, she had gained back a healthy amount of weight, and even looked a bit taller. Even though Ryder was only barely sixteen, it could be argued that she was considerably more mature than most her older siblings. Of course, it could also be argued that she was only pretending to be that mature, which would perhaps make her the most immature, in a way.

Ryder was quite happy to show her dress off to Elena, spinning in place to make sure she got a good view. It was deep purple (Ryder's color, of course) and plunged down rather far in the back, which made Elena feel like it wasn't quite age-appropriate. She wore it well, though. Strapless and floor-length. It was tasteful and very pretty, though not as surprising as what Sage was wearing.

After Elena returned the hug to Ryder, she looked back over at Sage who was purposely facing in the opposite direction, while looking down at something in front of her.

"Doesn't Sage look great?" Ryder said eagerly, practically prancing over to her sister.

"Stop it, Ryder," said Sage warningly.

"Sage, you look incredible," Elena agreed.

"Stop it," Sage repeated, turning bright red and refusing to turn around.

"Why are you two here?" Elena asked, glancing over at Ryder who was grinning ear-to-ear at Sage's embarrassment.

"The strap on Sage's sleeve," Ryder said, gesturing to where hers would have been. "It ripped off. We had to come here to get it fixed. But that's not interesting!" Ryder suddenly exclaimed, bouncing up and down, "What about you? Are you still with Phinn?"

"Yes, of course I am," said Elena.

Ryder practically squealed. "That's so cute!" she nearly shouted. "I couldn't wrap my head around it at first, but now I definitely get it. I love that Phinn has a date. I love that Phinn has a girlfriend!"

"Ryder, why do you always have to talk about such stupid shit no one wants to talk about?" Sage demanded as Elena laughed at Ryder prattling rather honestly.

"She's just mad because she doesn't have a date," said Ryder in a very matter-of-fact tone.

"What?" Elena inquired as Sage finally turned around so her eyes could flare to almost twice their size at Ryder. "But what about…?"

For years, Sage had been engaged to Garrett Kidd, who was a high-ranking member of the King's army, called an Executive. He was a terribly powerful magic user who had been instrumental in the fight against Hunt. And, frankly, he was extremely awkward, extremely sweet, and all around extremely adorable. The fact that he and Sage were so very different made their engagement that much more precious.

Sage crossed her arms and refused to elaborate.

So Ryder sighed and answered for her. "Sage broke it off."

"Why?" Elena almost whined. She was fairly sure she had never been so disappointed by anything in her life.

"Leave it alone, Ryder," Sage said through clenched teeth.

"Everyone else knows why!" Ryder said pleadingly. Then she waved her arm at Sage and answered anyway: "Garrett made a suggestion. Sage didn't like the suggestion. Engagement cancelled."

"What was the suggestion?"

"None of your business!" Sage said angrily.

"Garrett's niece is an accomplished pianist," Ryder began, but Sage had enough by this point. Even though they were both dressed up and looking quite pretty, she practically leapt on top of Ryder to keep her from answering.

To keep the peace, Elena assured them that it didn't matter. Even though now she was stuck wondering what kind of suggestion Garrett could have possibly made about his niece who is an accomplished pianist that would make Sage break off an engagement that had been arranged since before they were even born.

But, of course, it was also not the first time Sage had broken off the engagement. Perhaps the reason why Ryder was joking about it was because it was safe to assume that it would be back on soon enough.

Ryder winked as a way to say that she'd explain later.

"So…I didn't see your Kingdoms," Elena said to change the subject.

"Kept them up in the air," said Sage. "Less conspicuous. Are you saying that Phinn actually landed his?"

"Stupid, but that's pretty typical of him, isn't it?" Ryder chuckled.

Elena decided not to respond to that. "Are you here with anyone, Ryder?" she asked instead.

"I'm glad you asked, Elena," said Ryder as Sage let out a simultaneous exasperated sigh at having to hear Ryder answer this question. "I'm here with my fiancé."

"Fiancé?" Elena repeated, naturally getting excited at the prospect, but also wishing for more details on the matter. "You already have a fiancé?"

"Well, you know how it was my birthday right after we killed Hunt?" Ryder started as Sage wandered off, pretending to be interested in fabrics. "We told you how you usually meet your future husband or wife at those celebrations, didn't we? Well, I had mine a few weeks ago and, sure enough, I met the guy I decided to marry. He is very handsome, Elena. Distractingly handsome, actually. And he's in the Guard."

"Congratulations," Elena said.

"What did you do for Phinn's birthday?" Ryder asked.

"Phinn's birthday?"

Ryder's mouth dropped to the floor in shock. "You did celebrate Phinn's birthday, didn't you? Please tell me you did something special for him."

Elena went absolutely quiet. She didn't know when Phinn's birthday was. Apparently, based on Ryder's tone, it came and went already. "He didn't tell me it was his birthday," she said, feeling somehow betrayed.

"It was at the end of June," said Sage. "A little over a week ago. He really didn't tell you?"

"No, he didn't say anything," Elena answered. "And neither did Turner. He didn't mention it either."

"Turner's still with you guys?" Ryder questioned curiously, sounding quite surprised.

Even Sage turned around, expressing some interest. "Yeah, and you should see him," Elena said, hoping to make herself feel better about Phinn withholding the truth by seeing their reactions to all the positive things she had to say about Turner. "He's put on some muscle. And he's not so skinny anymore. I mean, up next to the other three older guys, he's still definitely the odd one out, but he can hold his own."

"Not quite as useless as he was before?" Ryder translated.

"That doesn't take much," Sage said, but Elena could tell Sage was at least a little bit impressed, even if she wasn't going to admit it.

"He's also gotten pretty good at shooting a gun," Elena added. "Of course, Phinn's not really the best teacher for something like that, but he at least knows how to hold it now and turn the safety off."

"You too?" Ryder asked.

"I went to some of the lessons, yeah," Elena said proudly.

"When is the tailor going to get back?" Sage questioned impatiently, clearly getting tired of all the small talk.

"Where'd he go?" Elena asked.

"Tailors aren't permitted to publically carry our official colors," said Ryder. "In this case, Helene-Blue. It's all stored in the back. And, since we never come around here, it's probably gotten buried over the years. Hey, it'll be the same for Anya-Red, I bet."

Of course, the only thing Elena noticed was the fact that the colors were named after their mothers.

"Ludicrous, isn't it?" said Sage, rolling her eyes. "It's as if our lives aren't already completely dictated by those women, but now we have to say their names every time we want something in our own color."

Ryder looked at Sage with a smile that was a cross between amused and sympathetic. Then she turned back to Elena. "But that's serious if you're getting a dress in his color," she said. "Are you guys that serious?"

Elena guessed that was Ryder's sneaky way of asking if they were going to get married. "Well, Phinn actually mentioned that he probably would be more comfortable if I wore some other color," Elena confessed.

"But you want to wear the red," Ryder deduced.

"Kind of," Elena admitted with some reluctance (since she had not been quite aware of this fact until just now). "I think the only reason he doesn't want me to is because he doesn't want to answer people's questions about our relationship."

"That's completely stupid," said Sage without a moment's hesitation. "That won't stop the questions. People will just ask more. You know he's colorblind, right? That idiot can't tell the difference between red and green anyway, so get it in red and tell him it's green. He won't even know."

"Good idea," said Ryder excitedly. "You should do that. We'll play along."

She knew that Phinn was colorblind, which explained why his fashion choices were often a mess. "Does colorblindness work that way?" she inquired. "Green and red really look the same to him?"

"I don't know how to works," said Ryder. "All I know is that those colors confuse him. But really, Elena, if Phinn says he doesn't want you to wear his color, it probably just means that he doesn't want to ask you to wear his color. Actually, I bet he really wants you to, and he'd feel really happy if you did."

"Why make such a big deal about what color you're wearing anyway?" Sage said.

"Garrett didn't wear her color," Ryder whispered in a voice that was perfectly loud enough for everyone to hear.

"Garrett's here?" Elena said as Sage groaned yet again.

"Not as a guest, just as a soldier," said Ryder. "Protective detail, and all that. He would have been here as a guest and had the day off if he was still set to marry someone who would invite him as her date. My fiancé got the day off to be my date."

"Shut up!" Sage spat.

"Get it in red, Elena," said Ryder encouragingly. "I'll back you up."

Eventually, she agreed. Ryder did have a point when she guessed Phinn likely wanted her to but simply couldn't make himself admit it. "Is there any way you guys could help me get this dress made?" Elena requested since she really didn't know a single thing about that kind of stuff.

"Of course," laughed Ryder. "We're practically sisters now."

Instead of trying to correct Ryder and refute this automatic assumption, Elena allowed it. After all, she was going to be getting a lot of comments about that so trying to gingerly explain it to everyone would just get exhausting. She sincerely hoped that Phinn would be able to come to the same rational conclusion and not end up exploding at any innocent bystanders.

There were still so many people to reunite with. Perhaps it would be better to just get used to it.