First Chapter Edit
The Death of a Friend
| Wheezing, I breathed in, the sound high and whistling as the air fought to make it through my constricted windpipe. Still clutching tightly to my orbment, I unwound the sheets from my throat. Utterly exhausted, I tilted my head on its side and watched with reddened eyes as a small stream of saliva dribbled down over the edge of my mouth and pooled onto the floor. When fresh air finally made its way into my lungs it initially choked me nearly as badly as the sheet had.
A thump from somewhere behind startled me from my fit. The Jaeger demoness, like a spring- loaded doll, leaped up from the floor of the room. The single shot of magic I had previously landed in her gut should have done the trick, but the fluid way she moved about made it appear as if she were unfazed by the blast.
Within arm's reach of where I had subconsciously curled myself came the splintering sound of unseasoned wood being hewn down by a giant woodcutter's axe. In the following instant, Sister Carnelia came flying through a newly opened hole in the timber door, her entry punctuated by a cloud of splinters. Her arms as pliant as whips, she passed by the female Jaeger in a lightning quick motion, and with a turning assault, clocked her opponent full tilt in the face. The woman spun with the force of the blow and fell with a tumultuous thud, her head cracking hard against the floor. Like a prima ballerina, Sister Carnelia raised her knee high until she had it tucked securely up against her sternum. She stared down at the outstretched figure on the floor. Muscles flexed and without an ounce of mercy, Sister Carnelia let her judgment fall with the heel of her boot stomping down and crushing the wretched woman's throat.
As I witnessed the grotesque and unsightly scene, Sister Carnelia gave a quick glance in my direction, and beckoned me on. Then, with a nimble hop into the unknown before her, she cleared the broken window frame and lighted to the ground below. Quickly scraping my belongings together, I made after her in the same manner as she had left: out the window with a two-story drop to the cobblestone side road below. Waiting close-by and helping to break my less than elegant fall, Sister Carnelia led me on as we took flight along the avenue, brightly lit by the morning sun.
A deafening blare from an orbal engine's whistle indicated that the first train was about to depart. Sister Carnelia immediately pulled a ticket from out of her coat pocket and held it out to me from the side. Reaching for the fluttering strip of paper between her fingers, I realized that I was still carrying the bar of soap from before so I chucked it, not caring where it landed or who it might hit.
Aboard the train, the smoggy haze from the incessant smoking of the nattering gentlemen had permeated into every nook and cranny of the passenger car. There was also the smell of newly printed publications and the occasional sound of someone clearing their throat. It felt rather awkward to have boarded a train bound for the Imperial city with my bag still in hand.
'Do you know what your problem is, Toby?' Sister Carnelia remarked. 'You're just like that orbment of yours.'
Using her white handkerchief, she stanched the flow of blood from my leg which had been lacerated by the spinning aeroblades of the magic.
'Once you get yourself into trouble, you keep digging yourself in deeper until someone comes along with a billy club and whacks some good sense into you.'
Placing a folded magazine on my lap, she tapped on it with the nail tip of her index finger, indicating that I should read what was inside. It was a copy of the Imperial Chronicle which had been published just that morning. A several-lined article, buried pages behind more titillating news, told of the suspicious death of one orbal factory owner somewhere within the capital. This was the first time I had ever become aware of Micht's real age.
Sister Carnelia continued her lecture as she mercilessly upbraided me for my reckless behavior.
'You missed being caught up in all of this by a hair's breadth,' she informed me coolly.
At a loss for words over the shock of Micht's death, I put the magazine away in my trench coat pocket.
'Another five minutes in that shop and you would have gone to meet your maker, too.'
I shook my head and with trembling lips, let my thoughts fumble out of my mouth. 'I just don't get it. Why did Micht have to die?' Images of Micht's cold body behind the counter alternated in my mind with that of the lump of metal wrapped in scrap paper.
'Just what the hell had I been carrying all this time, and why did anyone have to die over it?' I pondered at length.
Sister Carnelia met my eyes and held them. 'Because it's an artifact,' she said simply.
'An artifact?' I scoffed as I blew off her answer. 'It's not like I haven't carried a bunch of them before.'
Artifacts, in short, were the remaining legacy of an ancient civilization and the generic term for any unidentifiable mechanism which resembled that of an orbment.
I had spent my days as a courier smuggling any number of those items under the false pretense that the goods I was carrying were nothing more than rare antiques, and readily placed them in the hands of those aristocrats, amongst whom they were especially in vogue. And for the most part, my current possession appeared as though it belonged in the same group as the others. Personally, I could find no other value in the collecting of these artifacts besides the indulgence of oneself in a decadent hobby.
Chiding me as if I were a clueless child, Sister Carnelia rebuked, 'You're wrong, Toby. This one's much different than the others.' After a moment's pause, she added, 'It's alive.'
Unable to grasp what she had meant, I looked at her with a questioning expression on my face.
Sister Carnelia tried again. 'What I'm trying to tell you, is that it still works. Although, I'm not really sure what kind of power it actually has. It was unearthed during an excavation within the Empire's territory about thirty years ago...'
Sister Carnelia's subsequent story about the peculiar lump of metal told of the dark history surrounding a group of aristocrats who relentlessly sought after it. The artifact itself had transitioned from hand to hand by those in power, as one after another, they were murdered while slumbering in their bedchambers. Then, at the end of the Hundred Days War, its whereabouts were said to have been lost.
'And strangely enough, it finally turned up in the capital after all this time,' she said, finishing up the account.
An announcement chimed in the passenger car notifying those riding of the scheduled time of arrival. Sister Carnelia uncrossed and recrossed her long legs.
'The one who is after that artifact hired the Jaeger Corps to bring it to them, whatever the cost. So as a result, I was dispatched by the Church in order to protect both you and it from falling into their hands.'
I sat staring down at the bag resting next to my feet as we approached our destination, and the moving train quietly began to lose speed.