A number of things were destined to happen over the following days. Over the rising forest lands of central Raurugia, coming into sight of the northern mountains, La Danse Calinda would pass over many an interesting place and person. Whether the storm of Manawydden bore the airship onward or harassed her cruelly was a matter of opinion, for whatever Lafitte and his crew and weather wizard might have thought of it, to the selkies it was a bracing breeze to have at their backs, speeding them towards their goal.
Meanwhile, back in Sesus, the Guardian Cat came sailing swiftly into the royal city’s harbor in the pale clear light of a post-storm dawn. The city’s windmills were pumping the last of the storm surge out of the streets and harbor traffic was returning to normal, when the wet and exhausted Ruili Windwolf and Y’lanna Sparti threw their lines to tie up at the diplomatic pier. They were met by Lord Ambassador Ceula.
“Their Graces announced your arrival via psychegraph, Your Excellency,” the diplomat said, diplomatically reacting with barely a glimmer in his eyes to the sight of the purple alien accompanying the third of the sons of Ereon.
“Good,” said Ruili, leaping to the dock, “where is my brother Nightwise?”
“He has left the city, milord.”
“What! Why? When?”
The story of events in Sesus was quickly laid out, from the ghostly attack in the Square of the Dovecotes to the bombardment of the airship by Sesan criminals who had fared the worse for their efforts. “I took the liberty of anticipating you would wish to follow His Highness and the Lord Magus,” Ceula added at the end of the tale. “An accident on the main north-bound line caused a long delay in service, but the next train leaves in two hours. I have arranged a sleeping car for you. Your lord brothers have a lead of a day and a half.”
Ruili turned to Y’lanna. “Nothing for it then. Come, Milady Lavender, we have no time to lose.”
Ambassador Ceula had indeed anticipated their every need. In a whirl of activity, the tired mariners were ushered to the embassy of the Grand Navigators, given a meal, a rainbath, clean clothes, and conveyed immediately to the railway station with an armed escort to speed them through the festival throngs and the mobs of frustrated travelers. Y’lanna Sparti had hoped to see something of Aeldreth, but it could only be hoped she would catch and hold some fleeting glimpses of the color and spectacle of the capital of the Water Realm, the City of Masks, or the arcane and complex clockwork automaton that was the aura-fueled, magically enhanced locomotive engine at the head of the quaint car in which they would travel north.
As the porters stowed their bags over the drop-down bunks of the sleeper car — like a hybrid of a boat and a stage-coach — Ruili gave final instructions to the Ambassador.
“Send word to their Graces that I am proceeding north towards Mt. Isolla to intercept Jeneyeru and Peino. Apprise them of events here, particularly the miscreants who were dealing the cards. It may be of help in tracking down passage of the things through the Navvies.”
“Immediately, Your Excellency.”
And so on, up until the call for final boarding.
And while Ruili and Y’lanna were bundled thus onto Train Number 47 North of Raurugia Rail Lines, others were also claiming their seats.
Four imposing persons – three men and a woman – muscled their way into a four seater compartment. Their snarls told the porters to keep hands off their unusually heavy traveling bags. Cheap masks and low hats hid their features, and the bruises and bandages some of them bore as well. Though when the doors began to slam to and the thrumming aura vibrated through the body of the train, the leader leaned out to scan the platform one more time, making sure no tails trailed behind them. Withdrawing his head inside, he removed his mask and revealed the craggy, square features of one whose father was an eorman and whose mother was a hobgoblin, and whose life had left many a scar in its wake. Ashcat was all the name he answered to, and he had more than one score to settle north of his own town.
And at the far end of the line of cars and carriages, a black-cloaked figure, rushing with the frustration of a long wait, settled into no seat, but hung about the door of the last car, waiting for the train to start moving. Sesus had turned too hot too fast, forcing him to retreat to the mountain strongholds. He had managed to move most of the Blood cards, but now he was anxious to be rid of the rest before the inevitable happened and his wards against them began to fade. Easy money had been the promise — not hardly. Aye, the gold was good enough, but there was little ease in carrying these evil things in his pocket. He smoldered with resentment over the interruption that was forcing him to quit the town before his task was done. He could only hope the rest of the plan was going smoothly elsewhere.
Thus, the first train out of Sesus in two days hummed and shuddered with energy and moved itself out of the terminal station, carrying three parties chasing an airship, though not all of them knew it yet. And in the sleeping car, Ruili leaned back in a firm upholstered seat put up his booted feet on the facing seat and pulled his hat down over his eyes.
“Milady,” he said to Y’lanna, “I shall catch up with a little sleep, if you don’t mind. You should rest as well, or else go and explore the train, but be sure to stay on board. Don’t step off at any stop, not without me.”
And with that, the worn-out lord slipped into a nap.