A pre-Alpha Alpha draft. Not finished obviously. Shit is guaranteed.
This memory fills me with nothing but pain.
Grandfather had told me of the Great Tree one night when I was little. I can still remember his breath, pungent with homemade liquor and tobacco. The memory still visits me when warmth dulls my mind and contented sleep begins to take over. It is a happy memory.
“Once, there was nothing but sand, as far as the eye could see. But one day, the sand took shape and became the earth, all round and smooth as we know it. But there was a tiny piece of sand left and it formed the first man called Bhorn. Bhorn shaped the stars and the seas and watched as the earth grew plants and animals around him. He thought this was good, but he was lonely because he had no other people to call him friend. He fashioned for himself new people, some from clay, some from water, some from fire and some from the meat and bones of animals. He breathed life into them and let them go about the world and make it their own. These people called him father and in time he was to be known as the All-father of the world. Old and happy, Bhorn went to sleep for many thousands of years. He named his favoured son, Hodin All-Father in his stead. Over Bhorn’s body grew a tree, a great tree, the greatest there had ever been, so tall that it touched the stars. The people of the world thought that this was good.
“Hodin knew he was not the equal of his great father and so climbed to the highest branch on the tree to talk to the sky. He gave the sky the gift of his eye so that he might become more worthy of his father’s mantle. When he climbed back down he found that the world had become a violent place in his absence and many people had become monsters. So, Hodin fought back the darkness but he could only be in one place at a time. Hodin asked the sky for wisdom and the sky taught him how to split himself up like the wind. Hodin hung himself from the bough of the great tree, splitting his soul and his power, letting it flow into the bodies of the worthy. These worthy would fight the darkness for him. Hodin’s blood poured upon the roots of the tree and so it began to grow through time as well, into the future and into the past, into the time beyond time and back again. It is said that a few brave heroes once climbed it, attempting to find the future, but instead found themselves in the past.”
Grandfather’s voice sounds like the low mutter of a fire and I remember his warmth as I sat on his lap in the longhouse. I remember his gap toothed smile and his big brown hands and the smell of engine oil on his clothes. I don’t remember falling asleep on him, but I know I did.
“Wake up, sleepyhead.”
Suzanna’s boot nudges me in the ribs.
I roll over, keeping my eyes closed against the suns hot glare.
“Sleepy,” I tell her.
“We are here, Hieme. We’ve made it.”
I sit bolt upright and stare out at the city ahead of us.
Flags fly from poles above the great gates and polished metal gleams from the walls. The totems of many different tribes and clans are displayed in vivid colours and styles, all dancing in the salty breeze.
The City of Law, the last great obstacle between us and Afrik.
“It is, isn’t it.”
“What’s it like?”
“I don’t know.”
“But you and Father have been everywhere?”
“Everywhere is a big place, Hieme.”
At her belt, Mother’s radio crackles. She speaks into it.
“I count nine guards, three turrets and six artillery emplacements per section, plus one comms tower.” The radio squawks back at her. “Yes, sir. Understood.” She replaces the radio on her belt.
“How did you learn to understand that thing?”
“I was a soldier for a long time, child. You get used to it.” We had yet to ask Mother and Father our questions about the war or their lives in it. There were many, but so far, since the attack on the landtrain we had not had the time.
“I joined when I was your age, Hieme.”
“How old are you now?”
“Todo Padre, child, you don’t ask a lady that!” I caught the smile behind the words and both Suzanna and I chuckled.
“I’m forty five,” Mother says. “I served with the Exican New State Regular Army until I was twenty one. I was moved to the Northern 104th division, after Exica became part of the Union of Lands, where I met your father.”
“Was it love at first sight?”
“I love your father very much,” Mother said, “but when we met each other he hated me.”
“I was the one who stuck those studs into his head.”
That silences us. Before the raiders attacked our farm I had never questioned the heavy metal nail heads that protruded from the brow of Father and my uncles. It was something I had taken for granted and questioned not at all. I had even supposed that one day I would have them, as if they were a rite of passage into manhood.
Now, of course, I know they are a sinister thing.
The wind blows dust and sand against the metal of the trains hull, the sound swallowed in the mighty rumble of its engine.
Suzanna and I have been released from our duties in the engine room for the day and I am glad to see the terrain under the sun rather than the darkness of night. The sky is so bright, so blue and clear. From our perch on the platform I can see across the miles of hills all the way to the sea on both sides of the massive landbridge.
“What are those birds?” Suzanna asks.
High above our perch on the landtrain’s spotters platform, wheel large white birds. They call to each other in loud and raucous screams that seem, to my ears, like laughter. They cackle to themselves as they perch on the walls or plunge through the sky.
“I don’t know,” I tell her. The birds look so graceful as they swoop and dive and roll through the air.
“They’re ghuls,” Mother says. She stands upright, belted to the railing of the spotter’s platform. Her long coat flaps in the wind and the motors in her arm whir as she raises her seeing glasses to her eyes.
The birds continue to fly above us, laughing into the wind.
The radio blurts again. Mother picks it up.
“Yes, sir? Understood.”
She clips it back on her belt and says, “Hand me my rifle, Suzanna.”
Ahead of us our outriders had stopped to parley with a detachment of guards from the city. Winse is down there among our outriders. He’s a known business man, or so he tells me. He tells me that he is known in every harbour from her to Caresh, although I have no idea where that is. Of course, whenever he tells me such things Bennithra, his wife, whistles and rolls her eyes and calls him ‘Stupid Old Man’.
Justice will be down there too.
I do not know how to feel about Justice.
Mother attaches the scope to the barrel of her rifle. The train has slowed, our momentum enough to carry us forward in a snail like crawl for many hours. I have overheard the engineers and cogwatchers say that our fuel won’t be sufficient to get us into the city if our outriders take too long with the guards and the guards force us to stop.
I can barely make out the figures in the distance. All I see are dark spots against the hot earth. Mother watches through her rifle scope.
“What do you see?” Suzanna asks.
“That’s not very helpful.”
“Neither are interruptions, Su.”
I can’t help grin at my sister, an act that earns me a kick in return.
Mother puts up her rifle.
“They’re letting us in.” I can make out the outriders riding their motorised bikes alongside the city guards whilst one lone figure returns to us.
I borrow Mother’s seeing glasses and focus in on Winse’s face, his bike kicking up plumes of dirt as he rides it back towards us.
With Mother’s blessing I swing myself down the ladder and along the trains rumbling flank, waving to my friend as he speeds towards us. He waves back and reaches out to catch hold of the railing I cling to, pulling himself onto the slowly moving train. Together we haul his bike up behind us.
“Are they letting us in?” I ask him.
“Sure they are. Them guards is just a formality these days,” Winse spits dirt from his mouth as he speaks, his teeth as dark as his skin after several miles of eating dust.
“I tell you, boy, they took one look at me and said ‘Him’s Good’. I could get this whole train through with just a smile, that’s how good me rep is, you know.”
“You lying again, Old Man?” How Bennithra is able to sneak up on us I don’t know, but her snapped remark almost pitches us off the side in shock. She stands behind us on the walkway that runs between carriages, holding a bowl of soup. She pushes past her husband and peers at me with terrible scrutiny.
“You eaten today, child?”
She rounds on her husband.
“You tricking this boy with your loony ideas, Old Man? He still growing, he needs his food.” I couldn’t see how any of that was Winse’s fault, but he bore it as he did each tirade.
The bowl was shoved into my hands.
Beni, ever since she met Suzanna and I, had hunted us each day to make sure that we ate at least one meal. Mother and Father had taken to calling her Santo Ȧnd, the Blessed Spirit.
“Beni, you shouldn’t have.”
“You telling me I can’t go around making sure you bean eating brats see another day? I ought to tan your backside.”
Her face was as fierce as ever and as hard as a baked nutshell, but behind it all I could see the softness and the care. I think I, too, am coming to love Bennithra Winse.
The gates close behind the Landtrain, their mechanisms forming a hydraulic orchestra to welcome us into the city. I hang from the spotters platform, looking down onto the vastness of the city below me.
Complicated roads branch and spread from the main artery we grind our way down, streets and byways intersected with junctions and plazas, all paved with grey cobblestones.
Twilight is seeping across the world and the cities lamps and light bearers come out to meet it. Brilliant electric colours turn pale stone buildings into rainbow light murals. Music starts up from nowhere, something with a heavy base beat, filled with synthetic sounds and electric rhythm.
“Come down Hieme.”
I look to the bottom of the ladder and Father stares back up at me. His face is grime covered and his posture weary. I slide down the ladder to him, the passive violence of the landtrain threatening to shake me off.
“Quite a fiesta they’re throwing for us, huh?”
Father tugs on his moustache, a sure sign of apprehension. He has slept poorly these last few days. I have woken to find him pacing the corridors , his brow furrowed and his expression distracted. Even now, his face is disquiet, his eyes hardened by lack of sleep.
“How long will we be staying here?”
“Not long. A week maybe. Then we head north.”
My parents had hit upon the plan one evening as we sat out by the fire in the Night Market. Mother has said she wanted a place where we could live in peace – far away from war. Father agreed. Winse had laughed, saying that no place was free of war and of all places, we’d never find a safe one in the War Nation of Afrik.
Suzanna had talked, as was her wont these days, of the Old World and the stories of the God’s Homeland. She had spoken softly, bringing to mind the tales of Hodin’s place on the Great Tree, Thosé Santos and his protection of the lost and the weary and Balli, the protector of women.
I had never seen this quiet fervour in her before. The journey thus far had changed my sister into a person that was both familiar and unfamiliar. She clutched the little wooden symbol of her Saint, her fingers stroking Santos unconsciously.
They talked well into the night. My opinion was neither asked for no did I venture it. Mother and Father knew more of the world than I, and Bennithra and Winse knew more still. I would obey my parent’s decision.
There was one thing that I was certain of; wherever we went, there would be war.
Father eventually decided it. Many generations ago his family had come from across the sea in their long ships. He wanted to see it before he died. He wanted his children to make their home in the place of his ancestors.
“How long will it take us to get to the north?”
“I don’t know. In truth, Hieme, I even don’t know how we’ll know the north when we see it.”
“There’s snow and ice there, isn’t there?”
“There’s snow and ice at the top of every mountain, that doesn’t mean that each one is the North.”
“We’ll find Hodin’s hall there though, surely, and the Great Tree?”
“I don’t know. It’s been so many years. Many things could have changed.” He ran his hands through my hair. “Enough worrying me, little man. Let’s go outside and meet this city.”
Lines of guards and onlookers have gathered to see the Landtrain. The gates have been flung wide open for us and bags of sand piled high at one end of a massive plaza. Huge buildings rise up from either side of the plaza, forming an amphitheatre around us. Banners and lanterns hang from them and everywhere people wait for us.
They jostle and wave, many holding signs that bear symbols and sigils that I do not know. I see painted faces and strange costumes dancing in the crowds. The smell of cooking meat, burnt sugar and heavy spices fills my nose. All around us, hanging from the train’s railings, other passengers wave and call out to the citizens below.
With a final tormented groan, the train comes to a stop. A cheer goes up from the crowd and fireworks explode overhead. I can’t help but shout myself hoarse, Suzanna and Mother beside me clapping along and Father standing behind us, one hand on the rail, silent and watchful.
At the centre of the plaza I can see a palanquin and the dark shape of a huge man sitting atop it. At first I think he is some statue of welded metal plates, but he raises his hands and joins the clapping.
From nowhere drums sound, battering out a roll that ends in a clash of symbols. The Train Master, Artus Coin, emerges from a door in the front of the train and stands in full view of the crowd, his red frock coat looking as bright as flame lit blood. He waves to the crowd himself and makes a deep elaborate bow to the figure seated on a palanquin.
“My Lord,” he says, his voice blurting out through hidden amplifiers, filling the great square around us. The seated figure nods in greeting.
“People of the City of Law,” the Master bellows, holding out his arms and smiling broadly at them. “I bring you trade!”
The square explodes in rapturous applause.
“My train will stand here for thirteen days,” he tells them, “and in that time you will have access to all the pleasures of the West.”
More cheers. More fireworks.
“I have spices from SudMeric. I have metals from Anada and black coal from The Dead Realm. I have skins from Bloodstone, fish from Old York and Alskan wines for your delectation! I travel with Saints, Scientists, Doctors, Masters of Lore, Traders and Teachers, and I say to you, good people, what’s mine can be yours!”
They roar for him, stamping their feet and chanting, “Trade, trade, trade!”
Wild lights flash over Coin and catch the faces of the men and women that crowd the train’s passenger railings. It feels like nothing I have ever experienced before. The crowd below look at me with reverence and respect, like I am one of those great people who the Master travels with. ‘Who is he’, they must think? ‘Some special thinker, a child prodigy, or something else?’ It is a good feeling.
The figure on the palanquin stands.
“Train Master,” he calls.
His voice is strange, coming from his throat as if from within many tubes. As the lights flash over him I see that his face is masked behind overlapping plates of iron. His whole body is covered in metal with thick panels of it armouring his torso and contouring to his arms. A huge generator protrudes from his back, hunching him like an old man.
Coin turns to the figure again.
“We have had some unpleasantness in recent months with caravans and traders coming from the west. I hope you will forgive this.”
He waved his arm forward and suddenly the guards that lined the space before the train surged forward and climbed aboard.
They shoved their way into the crowded walkways and hangers, toppling the frail and shoving aside anyone that got in their way. As they went they snatched up men and women, staring them in the face before either taking them into custody or kicking them away from them.
“Todo Padre,” Mother swore.
She began shoving her way through the press of people, trying to hide herself among the bodies.
I looked up to Father, to see what he was doing, but he too had vanished, the crowd swearing and yelling at him and the guards as he barrelled his way through it, seeking, no doubt, a space to hide in.
Winse grabs my arm.
“Let them go. They’ve got their reasons.”
I looked up at him, incredulous.
“What? What’s happening? Where are they going?”
The older man’s lips are tight and his eyes hard.
“Not now. Not yet, boy.”
A guard shoves his way along the walkway where we stood. Bennithra had her hand locked on Suzanna’s wrist, my sister looking ready to draw the heavy wrench from her belt and start swinging it at anyone who came close. The guard stomps towards us, a length of chain wrapped around his fist. He eyeballs Winse and Beni, his gaze traveling over me and my sister. I do not like the way he looks at her.
Winse’s grip on my arm feels hot and hard, his old brown flesh like a metal clamp on my own.
We were stopped from getting off by a procession of spear and long gun armed guards, who politely but firmly, warned us to stay on the train. We waited, sweating in the heat.
From among the crowds a hulking shape emerged. It was a man dressed in some kind of patchwork battle armour. Great steam pistons powered his legs and the massive weight of a boiler made his stride cumbersome. At his command men swung up onto the train and began rifling through all our possessions.
The Train Master bellowed, “What is the meaning of this?” But was ignored by the guards and the massive armoured man. Master Coleen’s daughters yelled as they were roughly felt up by the guards and Suzanna was forced to stand behind Father as he shoved her out of the way of another man’s advances.
The armoured man yelled in a language that I did not know, his huge metal hand pointing at Father.
Guards surrounded us.
Mother came forward and there was a flurry of words in a tongue that I had no knowledge of. Father was clapped in irons and Mother restrained, but not before her metal arm turned a guards nose into a red mush.
Winse and Bennithra grabbed hold of us, using all their strength to stop us from charging after Mother and Father. By the end of it I couldn’t see, my eyes were so red with tears. The inspection lasted for another hour. Then the guards and the armoured man were gone.
The crowd moved and swelled around the train, people getting on and getting off. It was as if nothing had ever happened.
“We have to go get them,” I said.
“We have to go now,” Suzanna said.
But Winse’s strong brown hand fell on my shoulder, stopping me. He looked at me, trying to say something, but unable to do so. His eyes were strange.
“Because… because you’ll die.”
Bennithra held me to her, holding my hands and gently stroking my hair.
“We need to…”
“No.” Benithra held me tight. “You not going anywhere, child. Your mother and father wouldn’t want you dead. You go after them, you’ll be killed.”
We were forced off the train, the flood of people dragging us away.
Winse took my hand in his, shoulding his pack with his other. Benithra dragged a tearful Suzanna behind her. I was lost. The city loomed around me, none of it familiar. We struggled down streets lined with buildings that rose high up into the sky – for or five stories tall at least.
Crowds slowed our journey to a crawl. I was in a daze.
Winse pulled us onwards, through this strange city, the teaming mass of it a meaningless blur to me as we were forced forward.
When we stopped my feet were raw and red and my shoes and shirt soaked and filthy.
“Hieme?” Beni shook me gently.
“Did you hear me, child?”
I had no answer, for in truth all that had filled my mind and memories was the face of my mother, flushed with anger and fear as she was dragged away by guardsmen.
They would be alright.
They were Mother and Father.
But they were gone.
We were in a room. Pictures covered the walls and hard board covered the floor. Beneath the glossy pictures the walls were clad in wooden planks beneath which bare stone showed.
“Where are we?”
“Our home.” The place did not look as I would have imagined Beni and Winse’s home to look. I had pictured them in a long house similar to that which I had lived in at the farm, only filled with colour and the arcane devices of the gunsmith.
This was… different.
I had no way of being sure, but I guess that we were underground and surrounded by metal and stone. Pipes ran above my head and disappeared into the ceiling. The room was bare besides the wooden cladding and the strange pictures that lined the walls. Trunks had been stacked in one corner, massive padlocked metal crates. Winse was moving around with Suzanna, opening them and setting things out.
They were unpacking furniture. A table was set up, a thing made of metal. A work bench followed. Chairs were put up with surprising speed and a small cot bed followed. Tools were spilled across the floor as Suzanna upset the box they came in. She began to cry and, despite myself, I joined her.
We clung to each other in the gloom of that underground room, missing our parents and terrified for their safety.
“We’ll get them back,” I said. I know I am ungrown and many yeas away from becoming a man, but I said it with a certainty and force that made Winse take me to one side.
“You can’t, Heime.” His voice was a sad whisper.
“Because your Mother and Father are already dead.”
The days passed. We lived like rats, coming up to the surface for air and supplies every now and then. Winse built his guns. Beni sold them. Sometimes Winse would leave the cellar for days at a time on some errand. When he returned he would be tired and sorrowful.
I did nothing. I slept and ate and helped Winse, but I did not live. I had nothing to live for.
All that changed when I saw Justice.
It had rained the day before and Bennithra had pulled me out of the cellar to help her in the market. The rain clouds had not retreated and stayed, sullen humid objects in the sky, plotting greater storms for the future.
The City of Law was clean despite the muddy puddles in its cobbled streets. Buildings made of manufactured brick had been scrubbed by the rain and the damp panes of glass in their frames sparkled in the dull air.
The people here were clean too. I was so used to seeing dust caked boots or grease stained hands that their absence surprised me. The citizens favoured long cloaks or sack like habits belted at the waist. I saw few old clothes and few dirty ones.
Sitting, her back pressed up against the wall of an alley, Justice looked like a wart on smooth skin.
In her hand was a bottle and the remains of several others lay about in untidy mess. She had a ragged look about her. Her red hair was untidy and greasy as ever but now it was damp and rat-tailed. Her face bore evidence of bruising and her eyes were a blurry red.
She lay at the side of the street just off one of the many market plazas. People passed her without looking her way, a thing I felt was deliberate. She, on the other hand, was all but oblivious to them.
I went over. At one point I had been scared of her. Now that emotion was gone from me, waiting to be reinstated along with my parents.
Her face was red and her eyes puffy. I don’t know if she had slept at all.
“You don’t look well.”
She curled her lip.
“I will be.”
The gem at her throat was an ugly red blister, its surface dull and unhealthy.
“What happened to your face?”
“I got into a fight.”
Whoever could leave Justice with bruises and cuts was a person that I had no desire to meet.
“Who could do that to you?”
She gives me no answer, just turning her head away.
“Aren’t you still with the Landtrain?”
“My contract ended here. Now I’m a free agent.” She gives me a rancid sort of smile.
From the market behind me, Bennithra shouts my name.
“I’ve got to go.” I turn, but something compels me to say, “Will I see you again?”
I accompany Bennithra every day after that. Justice sits in the same place every day, drinking from a bottle or else staggering off to find a new one. Occasionally I would find her eye on me and, despite its wound red discolouration, her gaze did not waver.
“Don’t you think about it,” Benni tells me as she finishes polishing a gun.
“Think about what?”
“You wanting that big nasty lady to come home with us. Well, I ain’t having her in my house.”
In truth I hadn’t thought of it, but I did now.
A week went by.
Every day I went with Bennithra to the market, hauling a short trolley of armaments, ammunition and tools for their use. I served customers, mostly representatives of the various mercenary guilds or the traders who would be heading down the Landbridge to Afrik. I cleaned the stoke. I learned pieces of the native tongue – a patchwork language called Nagracali.
And every day I saw Justice, who grew to look more ragged and pathetic each day.
“She never did you no good,” Benni would tell me when she caught me staring. “We ain’t got the food to feed another mouth.”
Bennithra Winse’s words might have been harsh, but they could never fully hide her heart. One day, when I unwrapped the small parcel of food that was meant for my midday meal, she nudged me.
“Go take that to your girlfriend.”
“You getting stupid, boy? Take that to the big nasty lady. You go making mooneyes at her all day, losing me business, you pay with your lunch.”
I had smiled as I went over to Justice and handed her the food.
She looked at it and then at me.
“Food. You eat it.”
“Don’t get cocky, kid.”
She began to eat.
“The old woman ask you to do this for me?”
“Tell her, thanks.”
I stayed until she had finished the meal. My own hunger was no trouble to me.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
She didn’t answer at first, instead looking around behind me, for what I do not know.
“Because I have nowhere else to go.”
I remember the power I had seen in her. The strength. The ferocity. The appealing ability.
Father had said that I was one of Hodin’s children. Hodin, who’s titles are many. All-Father. One-Eye. Warmaker.
“Now you do.”
My fear is gone. My mind is clear. I have both purpose and life again. It is a good feeling. It is clean. It feels like I have been living in a grubby hole for weeks on end and have only now been able to bathe.
Justice pulls her bandana over her head, covering the scars. I have noticed that she does this now whenever Suzanna is present. I do not know why.
(Justice is a rape victim)
This close to her I can appreciate how large she is. Muscles as thick and well developed as Father’s make her chest deep and heavy. Her shoulders are as smoothed and rounded as hills.
“How did you get so big?” My sister asks.
“Push ups, sit ups and plenty of juice.”
Suzanna laughs without humour and leans back in her chair. The two have a curious habit of sniping at each other. It has little real malice to it, but it occupies much of their interaction. I catch small looks between them, frowns and scowls or even curious watching. What is even more perplexing is how close they seem to have become; Justice now accompanying Suzanna out on her errands, a fact that both Winse and Bennithra are quietly grateful for.
Perhaps I am just too young and understanding women will come with age.
“Can we get back to the plan?” I ask.
I spread the plastic roll out across the table, weighing each corner down with a stone.
“The main gate is here,” I point to my poor rendition of the massive building. “If we approach from the north then we can entre from this gate here.”
“And get stopped by the guards,” points out Suzanna.
“And then be taken inside and interrogated,” adds Justice.
They had been doing this for three days solid. Each plan I had devised they had picked it apart and explained to me why it wouldn’t work. It went beyond infuriating.
The door rattles and Winse calls out, “Just me.”
He came down the stairs, his back bent beneath the weight of a sack of pieces for his guns. Before he reached the bottom, I had hidden the roll of plastic. I had tried to convince Winse to help me break my parents out, but he had rounded on me and with a rage quite unlike anything I would have expected from him, shot me down.
“I promised your parents I’d keep you safe. That I’d keep you alive. You go on some mad mission to bring them back, you’ll get killed. You’ll get strung up in a noose. Your sister will get a chain for her ankle and thrown into a haram! Do you want that?”
I had told Suzanna what he’d said.
“We’ve come this far,” she said. “I don’t want to go any further until I get them back. I don’t care what happens to me if I don’t get them back.”
When I brought Justice back with me to live in the cellar with us, I had told her the same thing.
“He’s not far from wrong,” she’d told me.
“But with you, we can do it.”
“I’m not invulnerable, child. I bleed when I get cut, I die when I get shot.” I remembered how the gem at her throat had glowed like an earth trapped star.
“Then give me that gem and I’ll do it,” I had told her. She had simply chuckled and said nothing.
“What would you prefer,” I ask them both. The two women shrug.
“I still have my seal of service from the Landtrain,” Justice says. “I can get in on the pretext of delivering a message or some goods for the King. After that I can smash and grab my way through until I find the dungeons.”
“That’ll take a long time.”
“As we have seen, thus far, you don’t have anything better.”
I think about it.
“Could you make a distraction?”
Justice raises an eyebrow.
“What sort of distraction?”
“Something big enough to draw the attention of the guards?”
She thinks about it for a moment.
“Aye, I could. I’d get my arse riddled with bullets, but I could do it.”
“You do have… powers don’t you?” Suanna asks.
“Well, you can outfight anything they throw at you right?”
Justice looks at Suzanna as if she just said the most stupid thing in the world.
The gem at her throat was as dark as a scab. How did it work, I wondered. What could I do with it? How did Justice come across it? The last few months had been a long stream of unanswered questions. Even after Mother had promised me answers, I had not approached her or Father for them. I had no idea which question to ask first.
At night, when sleep eluded me, and that was often, I pondered what to ask when I had the chance.
“But you can create a distraction?”
“How long for?”
“We’ll need longer than that.”
“Then you’ll need a lot more than me then.” Justice leaned back, her untidy hair spilling over her shoulders, her bandana slipping and letting more hair pour down. I saw the jagged edge of the ‘J’ carved in her forehead before she adjusted the scrap of cloth.
“So, where are there more like you?” Suzanna asked.
“Nope. I’m one of a kind.”
“Oh, Jeez, kid. When a mommy and a daddy love each other very much-”
“All right! Todo Padre, I don’t need that mental image.”
“Can we focus?” I’m starting to have enough from these two.
We work at it for another hour, my temper getting the better of me eventually at their constant recriminations.
That night as we lay in our bunks and Justice snores on the floor, Suzanna turns to me.
“It’s going to work, you know.”
“Yes. I know it. You’ve thought of everything.” She strokes my hair. It’s a wonderfully intimate moment that I feel that I’ve been lacking since Mother and Father were taken. It is wholly welcome.
“After everything we’ve been through, breaking into a castle should be easy.”
I huddle down into my blankets, Suzanna’s warmth next to me helping lull me into sleep.
Nothing could be as hard as anything else we have faced, I tell myself. At least, I hope so.
The landtrain continues to rattle along the landbridge. It has fended off bandits, extreme weather and animal attacks. It has paid it tithes to the tribes that lurk in the hills and now it comes to the final obstacle; the gates of Law.
Mother tells them where they are going; the great tree. There, she says, they will be able to live free and safe in the cold north, just like their ancestors did.
Behind them lies the city of the scrap king who’s fleets ply the oceans for the rusted hulks that lie beneath the waves or else use mighty trawler nets to collect the floating masses of rubber and plastic that the waves hold. He melts these down and turns them into gunwagons, battle suits and blades for the warlords of Afrik.
Into the heart of this city the landtrain rides. Mother and Father finally give the children some of the answers they have been looking for. Justice meets her match and winse and his wife become separated in a war that will consume the world.
Mother and Father are recognised by the scrap king when he personally inspects the landtrain. He hauls them of for questioning.
Hieme and Suzanna take up their parent’s arms to try and break them out of prison. They ask Winse to help, but he is terrified of doing so. They ask Justice to help and she eventually agrees.
They infiltrate their way into his castle by pretending to be courtesans (justice is delivering them as a gift to the king). Suzanne remarks how similar this is to Those Santos infiltrating the hall of the giant king to rescue a lost soul.
Once inside they find the hall of gods – statues and pictures of holy creatures from around the world. There are bodies there as well, some mummies and dead gods. Justice tells them that these people were Metas and she explains what Metas really are. She goes into the war a bit.
They find their way down into the dungeons and recue mother and father. As they are escaping they are discovered and have to fight their way out. Winse arrives to aid them.
The landtrain is attacked and taken control of by the kings forces as they declare than an act of aggression has been purportrated against them. They seize it and everything on board.
Winse sees his wife gunned down by the king’s troops. They manage to make it to the docks and steal a (fast pleasure) boat. Mother and father and justice rig explosives on the other boats to cripple the king’s fleet and aid their escape.
Eventually the king turns up and sit gets real.
He tears off mother’s bionic arm and shoots father in the chest. He harvests the nails in fathers skull. Mother dies from blood loss as she pushes her children onto the boat and tries to buy them some more time, begging justice and Winse to keep them safe and take them to the great tree.
He remembered maThe tales of the Alliance of Uropa, the tribal contests of Franc and Tali, the Great Ice Mountains and the Kingdom of Anglon had all been passed down from his ancestors who had come from those shores.