Moonlight filtered through the mist that rolled over the Downs, momentarily turning everything a ghostly white before the moon slid back behind the clouds. Heavily loaded, the brougham rumbled along empty, winding roads and passed a small, still harbor. In the moonlit sea a few fishing boats bobbed, resting for the night --unlike the brougham's two passengers.
As it wound over the final hill, the sprawl of Svenfur came into view, stretching away before them. Amid the smog stood the beacon of the Terminus, its structure towering over all around it, glass and steel stretching for the heavens with the promise of adventure.
Cedo sat silently, watching as the world passed by, not knowing if he would ever see it again. In his soul lay the haunting fear that he may never return. He had read tales about the Dynasty in the periodicals. Tales of torture camps, forced pregnancy, and strange, unspeakable creations. People, it seemed, had gotten word out of horrific public executions, secretive organizations hidden beneath the mountains, and odd beings in the skies. But he knew, despite all that he had read, that he had to try and find Erus, even if it cost him everything. Beside him, Billy rambled on, his voice a distant whisper, sounding as if it were drifting up from beneath the earth. Words were jumbled together, making no sense to the worried Cedo.
Beside them the city jerked by as the carriage stopped and started, Svenfur as wide awake and playful as ever. Pedestrians charged across the road while carriages and trade carts and trams and omnibuses and the ever-multiplying walking machines crammed the road. All of them bottlenecked around the Terminus, trying to avoid the gaping, steam spewing holes burrowed beneath the buildings and streets. Beside the holes, clutching placards and with sandwich boards hooked around their necks, stood a small army of red-faced protesters. In amazement, Cedo stared at them, unable to hear their screams over the noise of the city. Scrawled upon the boards were words demonizing the building of the subterranean railway. It would break apart the country! It would break apart the globe! It would release the trapped spirits of the evil dead to walk the earth!
Cedo sighed and sat back as the protesters glared into their carriage, eyes bulging and mouths spraying white froth upon the window, as if Cedo and Billy were the evil dead they so feared.
"Bloody idiots," Billy hissed.
Lifting his eyes, Cedo nodded, his mind a million miles away, floating on the gentle breeze to wherever his Master was.
The Terminus was alive with the bustle of late night departures. At every platform stood a giant locomotive, stretching upwards and brushing the arched roof of the building, miles of multi-layered carriages curving away behind them. The entire city seemed to have descended on the Terminus as people moved around, boarding the massive steamer trains that would carry them to the ports in the east and west and aboard ships or dirigibles. Whistles, bells, voices, and the rasping of metal crowded the air in an overwhelming cacophony. Standing amid it, Cedo watched as one train began to pull out, wheels rolling uselessly against the rails before grabbing purchase and beginning to move forward, several hundred tons of metal and wood creaking behind it. As it eased out, so another arrived, signaling its arrival with a blast of a booming horn. Beside him, as tall and proud as when they had first met, stood Billy, silent for the moment, his hands clasped around the handles of the trolley piled with their belongings. The nerves grew, rolling over him in waves of cold anticipation and dread. He knew not what they would face, knew not what lay beyond the coast of their country. Stomach churning, he looked to Billy, blues eyes nervously returning his glance.
"You buy the tickets while I go and find the train."
Nodding, Billy turned to leave but, before he could depart, Cedo caught his friend's wrist and pulled him back. Draping his arms around Billy's neck, he gave him the gentlest of kisses. "Thank you," he murmured, "for all of this."
Arms tightened around his waist, the hustle and bustle momentarily forgotten. "Never a problem, Cedo, mate."
Giving him one last smile, Cedo leaned his weight against the trunk-laden trolley and moved to find their train.
Flames spewed from the twin smoke stacks of the locomotive as Cedo pulled up alongside it. A roar filled the air as it let off steam, scalding water streaming from the boiler and onto the tracks below. It was a sight to behold, the engine and its multi-layered carriages. Pipes trailed from the near-invisible roof of the Terminus and into the engine, feeding it with water and power. Cedo paused to admire it, a great beast, slumbering for a moment.
Walking the immense length of the train, Cedo counted off the carriages. First class would have afforded them an entire story of a carriage to themselves, complete with dining room and luxurious, thick beds, but it was a price that Cedo was unwilling to pay. Perhaps on the way back, if they were successful and still had money. Cedo had no idea how many people still used first class, especially when going overseas, not now that airships were becoming the norm. Second class would give them a room, barely big enough to contain them both no doubt, but it would afford them privacy, a bed, and a table on which to finalize their plans. Third class may have sufficed but it would have meant a cramped seat in a packed carriage. Lastly, there was cattle class. Which was exactly that, the class for the poorest of the poor, the lowest of the low who, for a florin or two could travel with the farm animals destined for slaughter.
They had not reached that point, at least not yet.
Pushing the trolley along the carriages, Cedo walked until numbers painted on the dark wood changed from 1 to 2. Each carriage door had been swung open, showing off bustling porters, spiral staircases, and passengers beginning to fall into a state of relaxation.
"Needin' an 'and there, sir?" Wheeling around, Cedo found himself face to face with a smartly dressed porter. Gold piping decorated his dapper red uniform and his eyes twinkled as he adjusted the red and gold box hat on his slick, greased hair.
Cedo leaned against the luggage. "Indeed, I do need a hand."
"Good on ya, sir. Good on ya." The boy, who could not have been much older than he and Billy, reached into a pocket and pulled a book from it. "'ow many bags you got, then?"
Trying not to appear flustered, Cedo allowed his eyes to roam over the trolley, its cargo beginning to list, threatening to spill its contents across the platform. "Two trunks and two carpet bags. The map tube and satchels I am going to take on board with me."
Licking his thumb, the porter leafed through the book, pages of pink slips flying through his fingers. Tearing four from the book, the porter proceeded to attach them to the luggage before handing the four identically numbered stubs to Cedo.
"There ya go, sir. Keep those about ya good person and when ya get to the other end, 'and 'em to the porter there. 'e'll fetch ya luggage for ya. Now go an' get ya self comfy on board an' I'll do the rest." With that, the boy grinned and leaned on the trolley, hand stretched out.
With a weak smile, Cedo reached into a pocket, produced a variety of small change, and dropped several grubby and worn coins into the boy's waiting fingers.
Collecting the satchels and the metal map tube, Cedo watched nervously as the boy rolled the luggage away. Along the underside of the carriage, several doors had been flung upwards and, into them, a myriad of different sized trunks were gently being sorted and stacked, all of them bearing colored tags. Looking at the crumpled ones in his hand, Cedo noted the consecutive numbers, all of them preceded by 2/2; carriage two of second class, he guessed.
Tossing the remainder of their luggage over his shoulder, Cedo grabbed the handle beside the door and heaved himself up the three protruding steps and into the vestibule of the train. As with the outside, the interior was covered with dark paneling. Small electric lamps jutted out from the walls, a narrow spiral staircase twisting up before him. To the left of the staircase was the door that led to the lower level of the carriage; there would be two more above him. Without a thought, he climbed, ignoring the second level and making his way to the third. The staircase led to a narrow corridor, curtains drawn over the rooms that were occupied. Cautiously, as if he were intruding on some private world, Cedo made his way along the corridor until he found an empty compartment. Sliding the door open, he stepped in and, with a sigh of relief, dropped the bags onto one of the beds.
As he had suspected, the room was nothing to sing about. It had two beds that pulled down from the walls. They became sofas once returned to their folded positions. Between them was a table, varnished and embossed with the red star insignia of the railway. Upon further inspection, the door beside one of the beds led into a small water closet, which, to Cedo's relief, was far grander than he had expected. The railway appeared to like to keep its second class passengers happy and had provided soap, towels and wash cloths.
Sitting on a bed, Cedo leaned against the window, stretching his legs along the neatly folded blankets. Suddenly he felt weary, his eyes dry and becoming heavy. No longer could he read the dining menu that sat upon a shelf beside the door. For the past few days they had not stopped, and now his body reminded him of that, muscles aching and leaden. His head rolled against the glass and he let his eyes begin to fall shut, the nausea of nerves throbbing away to nothing. Erus was out there, and hopefully still alive. It was a daunting task, traveling so far on the words of a simple, coded message. But he had to do it, not just for himself, not just for Erus but, it seemed, for the future of the country.
Smells and sounds assaulted his dozing senses, coal dust and steam, announcements and the constant squeal of metal against metal. Cedo could feel himself drifting, his body giving him reminders of the man he was chasing, a man who had loved and hated him in equal measures. But he had shown that he could fight as well as Erus and he was not going to let any animosity between them cloud the task at hand.
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