[Author’s Note: I changed only a passage near the end, but I figure I’d publish it anyway since The Solune Prince needs some love during its hiatus.]
Chapter 32: Untitled – Remastered
She could see the building. It was a street over from the main road, and it looked with sheer height over the buildings in front of it. As Alexandre approached it, she could see that it was made of stone and wood, with some metal bricks seemingly placed more for effect than anything else. Alexandre’s vision was pulsing with haze, but she could tell that the structure was very well made; possibly a century or more old. The main road had very high traffic, and had her wondering if the act of trying not to touch anyone was the only thing keeping her awake.
She reached the building—locked—and leaned on the door. She banged as hard as she could. Alexandre wondered what would take her consciousness first, sleep deprivation, or exhaustion. She turned around and leaned her back against the door. I’ll sleep out here if I have to. Like I care.
The door opened and she fell backward. She hit the ground, and looked up. A maiden of some sort looked down at her.
“Do you have a reason for calling on the master at this time?”
“Is this Lilllith’s?”
“This is the House of Angels. The master of the estate is Lilllith.”
Alexandre looked down and out through the door. Her feet were still outside, but the rest of her was face-up on a stone-tile floor. It didn’t look like an estate. Usually estates weren’t so close to central roads.
“I need to talk to Lilllith.”
“Lilllith has not returned from the mission given to her by the prince.”
Alexandre tried to get up. The woman helped her. She wasn’t strong enough to stand, so she sat on the ground instead.
“Well, I don’t know what to say…woman.” Alexandre crossed her legs unceremoniously. “We’re back, but I don’t know where she is.”
Alex shook her head. “Lilllith is missing. I’m from her party you know. From the Solune Kingdom.”
The woman’s eyes turned from confusion to tears. “Where? Where is she? What happened?”
Alexandre tried to stand, failed in a fit of pains, and then stood again, moving to close the door. She didn’t close the door. Instead, she called out a name.
The rail car was fast—a lot faster than walking.
Kent watched the street pass him by as they rolled along. There were a lot more people than he was used to seeing, even more than in Hannibal.
“This must save a lot of time,” he said.
“Yes, it certainly does,” said Avvarace.
“Do you know exactly how much?” Siren asked.
“We did some calculations back when the line was shorter. It takes three hours to cross the city on the main road. The rail that follows it, even with the stops, cuts that down by around a third.”
“So, we could cross the city in an hour?”
“Less if you’re on the express track. We set up another along the main road since…well.”
“You keep talking about stops; what does that mean?” Kent asked.
“Yeah,” Siren added, “and how is this think even powered?”
“Good questions!” Avvarice beamed. “My answer is so fitting, that it answers both. Consider, what are some ways that we can cause a mass to move?”
Kent was taken centuries back to his time studying mathematics and natural philosophy in secondary school. He shuddered.
Siren said, “Push it? Throw it?”
One of the two brawny Lussa men smiled and said, “how about, roll it down a hill.”
“Thank you. You took the analogy right out of my mind. The rail system works exactly like that, it is essentially just rolling down a hill—on rails. SO the tracks are all on an incline, as you have probably noticed, and gravity does the rest for us.”
“Gravity? I’ve heard of that…” said Kent.
Avvarice laughed and continued. “So, we need to have a certain depth of incline, otherwise cars either won’t move, or they’ll move too slow.”
To Kent’s disappointment, Siren kept the topic going, saying, “But eventually you hit the ground, right?”
“Exactly. Those grounding points are our stops. That’s where we met you, at a stop. Some are higher up than others, which lets them go farther. We load and unload passengers, and we reset the potential energy using the winch system. Obviously anyone who wants to stay on has to take the stairs and meet us at the top to re-board.”
“And then you go to the next stop! Fascinating.”
“Quite. The only thing is that the process requires manpower to work the winches. Luckily the city pays for that now.”
“Okay.” Siren nodded. “So how do you measure how far the cars can go before you actually invest in laying the…rails?”
“Oh, a friend and I developed an equation that is quite accurate using gravity and weight…”
By this point, Kent had tuned out. They were near coming down near single storey windows now, and would likely reach the ground soon.
The Underside was strange. All the buildings seemed to be made out of some alloy or other, and the sun reflected uncomfortably off of many of them as they sped by.
“This will be our last reset before the castle. Ready yourself…” She looked at the two men, tattered from some sort of adventure, and carrying compact and overstuffed packs on their back. “Ahm…you are about to meet our prince so, do what you can to look it, I suppose. It’s only you two, so you can stay in the railcar as we elevate it if you want.”
This tower was tall, built on the corner of a street. Siren watched for a bit, staring at the busy landscapes, metal buildings, silver-skinned people…. No, there were others too. A Djeb here and there and— “Are those N’Tariel?”
“Hmm?” Avvarice looked. “The dark-skinned Lussa you mean? They’re Lussa. There was a…oh, what was the word…” She trailed off, looking downward in thought. “Oh yes, a divergency. I don’t know all the academics behind it, but we’re all the same nation.”
“Oh. Interesting. I wonder if Senica knows anything about it.”
“Not sure, she hasn’t taken her studies to the Lussa before. This place will be fairly new to her too,” Kent said.
He started helping with the raising of the cart, and things went noticeably faster. At the top, people were waiting. Avvarice brushed them away as she had nearly done with Kent and Siren.
“Look, the next car is almost here.” She pointed. The car was visible down the street. “A minute perhaps,” she estimated, waving the crowd off.
Siren could see the Palace in the distance. It seemed to be twice the size of the Solune castle, maybe more.
“Lilllith?” Alexandre called out through the door. She wanted to run, but she was so exhausted. She began losing her balance, and the servant caught her. “What is wrong with me?”
“I can hold you up if you need,” the woman said.
“No, I am fine. Just…what is your name?”
“I am Shalla.”
Lilllith waved at them from the street. She was only a few steps away now, and approaching. Shalla propped Alexandre onto her feet, and then let go.
Lilllith arrived and closed the door behind her. “Yes Shalla. You should not leave this door open, even if you are embracing guests. And also, you likely should not be embracing guests anyway.” She turned to the Riley. “Very good to see you, Alexandre Dirge. I assume everyone else made it here as well?”
“Then surely Chloe is? You two were together when we were separated, correct?”
Alexandre wasn’t sure if she was feeling sick from shame, or from injury. “No, Chloe is imprisoned.”
Lilllith looked at her maid, who was looking at her hand. “Alex, she is speaking to you. I am ‘master,’ not miss.”
Alexandre turned around, which made her extremely dizzy, and then she almost vomited (but didn’t) and then fell on the poor girl. With her head over Shalla’s shoulder, Alexandre said, “I give up on this whole standing business. What is it, woman?”
“Your side…” She put her hand behind her back so Alexandre could see it, “it’s covered in blood. You have some sort of cut, and it is not small!”
“You’re quite a lovely woman, I’m sure.” Alexandre felt tired and emotional.
Alexandre lost consciousness.
“Do you mind if I help you miss?”
“No, you wake her up.”
“But she looks so calm…”
Alexandre blinked awake. For some reason, she briefly thought of her mother.
“Hello, umm, I have cleaned you, and your wound is also covered now.”
Alexandre felt the sensation of having been drowned. She felt her sides. It was tight. She couldn’t breathe right.
“It’s tight, Shalla.”
“I know. To keep pressure. We will loosen it later.”
Alex looked down. “Where is half my chest.”
“You said yourself it is tight…”
“And my clothes.”
“Are these okay?”
Lilllith interrupted the questionnaire. “Those are my clothes. We are of similar build, though possibly it will not cover your torso properly, as you are much taller and a touch broader. Regardless, I have to confirm your words before you go off. Did you say Chloe was in the prison?”
“Yeeeeeaaass.” Alexandre’s head went limp to one side.
“Keep her awake.”
Shalla grabbed Alex. It was enough.
“I won’t keep you long. I will retrieve her if that’s the case. If anyone else from our group arrives, you can tell them that’s where I am.”
“And if they do not come, I will go out and track them down,” Alexandre said.
“You will not. I will send a few of my denizens out.”
Alexandre looked at Shalla as best she could. The young woman had features she hadn’t seen in many Lussa. Perhaps some of her ambushees. Shalla’s skin had the purple shine so common in the Lussa, but it was dark. And not a little tanned like an East Metch, but dark like an N’Tariel or even an Elken person. Alexandre tried to figure out, if these people truly were the same as the Solune, centuries back, then where did these darker tones come from? Her brain ceased before she could consider the question too deeply.
Lilllith said, “Shalla will watch over you. Do not fall asleep until you no longer feel dizzy. Shalla, stand her up. Bring her to her room. You can let her sleep there if she can walk on her own.”
“Yes master. Alexandre, come on. Come now.”
Alex made it to the room that was set aside for her without much help. Shalla was very impressed.
Lilllith was worried. She wasn’t sure how much she would have to argue and threaten in order to get Chloe back, and she wasn’t sure if it would even work. So much had changed.
[Edit: This will be the second last chapter coming out until summer! To find out why, you can read this blog essay.]
The chapter that was left untitled was Chapter 19, and it was written during a frustrating transitionary phase of my writing. When the plot had locked up and stopped. Here, we are in a similar situation, although hopefully it will go over better than the three Jagged Assembly chapters.
This is the first chapter I’ve actually typed in about two months. Though, we’re still going through things I have handwritten, so I haven’t written anything new in a long time (for this novel anyway).
As with the previous chapter, a few things were added and fixed (though not quite as much.)