"That's a terrible neighborhood," Lyxxie exclaimed.
The hour was late and the streets were mostly empty. How time had passed so quickly in the depths of that basement, Kal wasn't entirely sure. He hasn't even been able to take full inventory of its contents, but that was no matter. He was able to identify each and every herb and elixir that was there, and it gave him a mild sense of satisfaction despite its irrelevance.
Shalassah had attempted to extract information from Jyxxie, but the only response she received was that they were not at liberty to say. Whether it was an order from Jacques, or another, was also left to be answered.
So they climbed into a boxy vehicle with four wheels on it, two vertical pipes jutting from the back that connected to a sputtering engine. At first, Kal thought that perhaps the vehicle was in bad shape, but as they sporadically passed similar vehicles, he realized that all these four-wheeled vehicles sputtered and smoked. The choking was loud, the exhaust extremely unpleasant, but they traveled twice as fast as a jogging man. Jyxxie had pointed to the northern section of the city, a locality that was slightly elevated from the rest of the city due to the rising terrain, and assessed they would reach that place within the hour. Certainly before the moon reached its peak in the night's crystal clear sky. The streets were narrow and straight, some buildings hung dangerously over the road, while others rose up more than five stories, blocking all light. The street lamps were dim and did little to show the path, especially at this speed. Like most of the Dalathould Empire's technology, Kal reflected sadly.
The sound of the vehicle smashing something, broken glass. A woman screamed, her angry face suddenly appearing at Jyxxie's window, fist ready to pound upon the glass. Jyxxie pulled hard on the wheel and they puttered away, not before the woman kicked the body of the vehicle as it sped away.
"Cursed lights," Jyxxie muttered.
"You never fail to hit something at night," Lyxxie grinned from the front seat. "I would've hated to find that lady under the cab!"
"If your father would just get off his feet and purchase the schematics from Allencia," Jyxxie said loudly.
"With whose money," Shalassah shot back, still most unpleased with Jyxxie's mode of conversation.
"Your money, our money, it doesn't matter."
"You think it's easy, do you?" Shalassah folder her arms and furrowed her brows. "My father would never take your money without asking for it. It's not his choice anyway, it's the guilds who have their hands in our coffers, stealing your money and preventing such improvements like so."
"That's not true," Lyxxie interjected. "I've talked with the Builder's Guild before, and they have no say in the matter. It's up to the Courts, they say."
"They tell falsehoods. My father would do anything in the world to help you, all short of lying and cheating. It's you and your kind that are repressing your own selves, you have no one else to blame. Just recently, he tried to build a second air strip for more airships. The first one is already crowded, and it proves that we need more. But the guilds botched the project on the second strip halfway through. They demand more money. My father is not a crook, and he will not take seriously requests from crooks."
"Not true either," Lyxxie insisted. "The Transportation Guild said they would have kept going if it were not for legal paperwork that disappeared in your Courts. The Courts ordered the halt, not the guild."
"Lyxxie," Jyxxie said solemnly. "You talk too much."
"I will not let her put our friends down!" Lyxxie cried back.
"And what guild do you two belong to?" Shalassah asked with a sly tone.
"The M--" Lyxxie yelped as Jyxxie whapped her hand across her sister's chest.
"Ah." The princess smiled for the first time since that morning.
Kal looked at the three of them in silence. The sisters scowled at each other, and Shalassah contented herself to look out the window. The back seats were slightly too compact for him, so he had to turn slightly sideways towards the princess, but his presence seemed nonexistent to the princess. Any conversation between them in public would only irk her, and he wished to avoid that at all costs. Still, there were so many unanswered questions, so many curiosities that needed responses.
As they travelled across a high stone bridge, he saw a large vertical building jutting from the bottom level and rising almost ten stories above the second level of the city. "Is that the palace?" He blurted out before he could contain himself.
Lyxxie turned around and looked at him. "Of course. Oh yes, I almost forgot that you are from Mono Luthor! Jyxxie, he's from Mono Luthor," she nudged her sister's arm and the vehicle wobbled accordingly. Jyxxie said nothing. Lyxxie paid no attention. "Is this your first time?"
He smiled, suddenly feeling awkward to be sitting in a small cab with three women. "Yes, this would be my first time."
"How do you like it? I mean, besides the fact that you somehow got involved with -- say, you aren't working for the princess, are you?"
Kal took the short pause as a moment to reply, but was sharply cut off.
"I know! You're her bodyguard in disguise!"
"Your Jacques murdered my bodyguard, don't be such a fool!" Shalassah said sharply, her temper rising.
A look of surprise covered Lyxxie's face, and she covered her gaping mouth. "He did? Why, he wouldn't do that for no reason."
Shalassah said nothing.
"He was protecting the princess," Kal proffered, hoping to find a justification for the sight he had seen.
Lyxxie turned to him. "Only to defend one's self and the livelihood of your mates. There is no other reason to kill unwontedly."
"I suppose that's a code of your conduct," Shalassah said bitterly, staring out of her window.
"Of all the guilds." She turned back to the princess. "Your bodyguard must have had his sword at Jacques' throat, or else he would not be dead."
Again, Shalassah did not grace the girl with a reply. But Kal knew that was not the case. Jacques' guard was not at the edge of the sword. Jacques had unfairly pounced on the man from behind, ruthlessly slitting his throat open without prompt.
"You would not kill another for no reason?"
"Of course not," Lyxxie replied. She kept her lips tight, realizing that she shouldn't go on speaking so freely of the guild's codes, if only to save herself from her sister's wrath.
Jyxxie slowed the vehicle. Ahead, there was a beacon of red light from a tall post at the end of the block. This long street appeared to be coming to an end, perpendicular to a wide road where an occasional vehicle could be seen driving by at higher speeds. Kal shuddered at the thought of going at a higher speed than this. The flight in the air did not bother him, but being cooped up inside this small rickety cab did, and the sooner he could get out of it, the better he could breathe.
The vehicle slowed to a jolting stop ten feet from the end of the block.
"Cursed brakes," Jyxxie muttered, switching gears and shoving them back into place. The vehicle jolted forward another foot, then the engine coughed and suddenly stopped. Jyxxie cursed, Kal cringed.
Shalassah threw herself forward in her seat. She wrapped an arm around Jyxxie's throat. Silver gleamed in the pale light, a short blade nearly touching the pale flesh. Kal pushed himself back into his seat, staring at the princess, then at Jyxxie's white knuckles. Lyxxie was speechless.
Not moving her arms, Shalassah slowly began to shift her body to the center of the vehicle. Lyxxie could only gape.
"Get out of the cab. I will drive from here." The princess' voice was monotone.
Lyxxie jumped back. The princess' hand was like lightning, the blade flashing within inches of the girl's face. She held it steady in the air, pointed at Lyxxie.
Lyxxie scrambled out of the vehicle, and to Kal's surprise, she opened his door and hardly noticing him, shoved herself inside beside him and slammed the door. Jyxxie struggled to free herself, and as the princess let her go, she too jumped out of the car only to throw herself in the backseat. Shalassah pulled herself into the driver's seat.
Jyxxie scowled at the princess, rubbing her throat that was now beginning to welt.
Shalassah turned the engine over once, successful the second time, and without stopping, cut the wheel tight and merged easily onto the wide road.
She headed south, away from the second tier.