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Goat head and onions

Brenzel liked most of the breakfast, except the roasted goat head staring at her with cooked onions on top. Ugh. creepy. The sausage – she couldn’t tell if it was horse or not – was good. There was a type of flat bread and a half moon pastry pocket filled with meat and vegetable, which was her favorite. Plates of small pieces of cheese alternated with spicy slices of meat – which tasted to her like some sort of mutton – lay fanned out nicely. And there was some type of milk, too. It tasted funny. Brenzel didn’t ask.

After they had all eaten their fill, they followed Damian and their luggage out of the inn to a waiting carriage. At least that is the closest thing Brenzel could imagine it looked like. No horses pulled it, though it was at least twice as big as that type of normal conveyance. It had six wheels in all. From the side as she approached she noticed two wheels in front, under where the driver sat, and four bigger ones in the back. Above the rear wheels, a smaller version of the boiler on Tane’s airship rested. The ornate mid compartment was so large, it could have sat twice the number of the party comfortably.

Derek went to look at the mechanism in the back as he waited for the others to board. He stood by the two men who manned it, asking them many questions, until Damian stuck his head out of the door, calling him inside.

“That thing’s a beauty,” Derek remarked as he sat down by Fallon. She took his arm, smiling.

Brenzel peered outside the window at the passersby, everyone dressed the same as herself now. She hated the corset. Frankly, it felt like someone grabbing and squeezing her midriff relentlessly.

Wichapi, I feel you

All morning, she’d felt Wichapi near in her mind and emotions. It wasn’t a good feeling, either. It felt like something was wrong. Iris was weighing on her mind, too. She knew Joshua had given into her desire to see her daughter against his better judgment. That made her feel good in a way, knowing he cared about her feelings and all. But seeing Iris, so close! After the initial swell of relief, she longed in her heart to see her baby girl again, tell her how sorry she was, ask her forgiveness.

And to top it off, there had been no letter from Joshua in days. That was frustrating. At every chance, she tipped the trunk visible, checking the little drawer. She had written Joshua two letters, telling him of her adventures in Steam City, but he’d hadn’t answered back. One part of her figured he was just busy with important things, but another part desperately wanted to feel important to him, too. Ugh!

I feel lost

Looking around the cabin, she noticed that Damian had closed his eyes and was resting. He had the look of someone who was always self assured and comfortable anywhere he went. Derek looked outside eagerly, chatting with Fallon, pointing at this and that. Komae sat up straight, proper, bouncing a little over the bumps in the road, but full of composure. Or was she?

Komae, what do you think of all this? Brenzel thought. She felt Komae come in and sit, as it were, in the parlor of her mind.

I feel lost, Komae confessed.

Brenzel felt sorry for her and wanted to hold her, even thought Komae always seemed so strong. Change is hard, Brenzel thought.

Harder than I ever thought, came the reply.

Could we sit together? Brenzel offered, feeling her need.

Komae got up, then sat next to Brenzel, her eyes smiling.

I admire what you’re trying to do, Komae, it’s very brave, Brenzel said in her mind. Someone has to be first, that’s how tough things get done.

Komae looked at her and said in her mind, I’m sorry about calling you a child the other day, that was wrong. Please forgive me.

Surprised, Brenzel replied, Honestly, it didn’t bother me that much. Compared to you, I am!

Too much time

In a way, I envy Edenites, Komae continued in Brenzel’s mind, as she looked away. You value time, it‘s passage is important to you. For Halans, time is practically meaningless. There’s so much of it, we barely notice it anymore. I once spent an entire month gazing at a tree branch, trying to understand how it felt as it grew. She looked over at Brenzel, tilting her head, the thing is, you would never do that, because time is precious to you. I feel that my people waste a lot of time on things that don’t really matter, and I don’t think that we’re better off for it.

Brenzel, for her part, felt no gulf between them. Ancient or ephemeral, they were just people. The tall Halan woman looked only slightly older than herself, despite her many eons. The whole concept made her dizzy.

Shifting her dress, which was bunched in an uncomfortable way under her leg, Brenzel thought, I hate these clothes.

I agree, came the equally uncomfortable Halan’s immediate response.

Turning to look out the window, Brenzel thought, I feel lost, too. I miss my friend, I miss my daughter. I worry about them both.

She felt a unspoken question. Yes, it’s okay. Brenzel felt the tall Halan gently merge with her memories of Wichapi and Iris. Komae’s face changed to one of surprise then sadness, her mouth opening slightly when she saw Brenzel’s image of Iris in the hallway. She spoke out loud, but quietly, “She looks so much like you.” Then reaching over, she took Brenzel’s hand, I had no idea there were two of you.

At first she thought Komae was referring to Wichapi, but then she understood she meant Iris. An odd way to put it, Brenzel thought, but accurate. The truth was that Iris had been made by her and was, therefore, very much like her. Of course she was unique in her own right, but still an awful lot like Brenzel in many ways. For Komae, living in a world where no one had children, it must seem strange.

You must tell no one, not even Alethea, Brenzel said in her mind to Komae.

I will keep your secret, Komae answered in her mind. She looked at Brenzel with a solemn face and nodded.

This time Brenzel knew that Komae referred to Wichapi. It was reckless of her to confess the truth, she knew, but having shared Wichapi with Komae, letting her see inside that dark closet, somehow, made things better, lighter. At least, now, someone else shared the burden of her secret, too.

Thank you, my friend, she thought.

***

In the cooling of the noonday suns, Brenzel stepped out of the carriage. Damian’s strong voice instructed, “Everyone, look sharp. This is a fitting station. We are about to enter Iron-Wright territory. Your trunks will be brought to your fitting rooms. After you finish changing, station constables will check that your dress is regulation and give you a chit if you pass. At the border, you will be checked again and your chit taken.”

Sighing, Brenzel looked down the line. Many carriages were parked, with men and women disembarking or re-boarding in different clothes. The building before them was ornate and impressive, which she thought was ludicrous, why all the emphasis on clothes?

A female attendant inside the station directed Brenzel to a large fitting room where she saw her luggage already present. Looking at her askance a moment, the woman closed the door with Brenzel inside and locked it. Brenzel locked it from her side, too, with a sliding bolt. Turning, she tipped her hat visible, then tipped the side, making her own trunk appear. Opening it, she checked the mail drawer. Still no letter. Disappointed, she opened another drawer, took out a piece of chocolate, and nibbled.

Damned corset!

She sat down, unlaced her shoes, and rolled down her long stockings. She stood, then undid her dress, stepping out of it. How in the hell? She reached behind her back, trying to find where her corset tie was to undo it. As she struggled, she felt something in her hand.

She quickly brought her hand around to her front and opened it. A black feather. No, Wichapi, I can’t come see you right now, she thought, letting the feather drop, watching it disintegrate into a thousand points of light before it hit the floor. There has to be a way to communicate better with her, Brenzel thought, finally getting the corset off.

Thankfully, the Iron-Wright clothes provided were more utilitarian; less formal. She donned comfortable pants and belt, calf-high leather boots, long sleeved blouse and a pretty vest, topping it off with a sort of modified bowler hat. Altogether, looking in the mirror, she smiled at her reflection that seemed rather like some well-to-do baroness in her riding habit.

“Brenzel!” Startled, she jumped sideways, knocking into her trunk, then falling toward the wall until two familiar arms caught her. She stood and turned.

“Wichapi! You can’t be here!” she said in a low, terse voice, as she looked at her friend standing before her.

An insistent knock on the door interrupted, “Is everything alright in there?”

Brenzel, thinking fast, said, “Yes…Yes, I’m okay. Just tripped over my shoes a little. I’ll just be another few minutes. Thank you.”

She stood with her hands on her hips, looking at Wichapi. Then the annoyance drained from her, and she hugged her. “This really isn’t a good time, Wichapi. I’m on a mission.” Feeling Wichapi’s tension, Brenzel let loose and stood back, seeing the concern on her sister’s face. “What’s wrong?”

Iris is in trouble!

“I found Iris!”

Suddenly focused, Brenzel asked, “Is she in trouble?”

“Her fiancé was murdered, and she thinks someone wants to kill her, too!”

“Oh, God no, my baby!”

SEOIB.