Chapter Eleven, to the Hills

Yulevi was terse with details as the trio prepared their flight, not that there had been many moments to stand still and vent explanations. Upon leaving the late Aurok's apartment they fell into relative silence, making only idle small talk as they walked. Jason was now accustomed to this rule, as it prevented any from overhearing those things they might discuss in private. With Aurok now killed, Rakesh and Yulevi were on edge.

And so with great caution and unease they made their way to the train station near the centre of town. Like some of the great cities of Earth's past, Auburg's streets and boulevards radiated outward like spokes from its centre, which housed the civic rail yard.

It was only a matter of a few kilometres walk and a ride on a smaller city train to arrive at the grandiose building. Jason thought it looked much like the palace he and Yulevi had escaped from, though it shared certain characteristics with the more numerous towers of Auburg. Like the palace its architecture was aimed to impress, grand arches and pillars flanking the various entries and exits, sculpted details wrought in shining stone and metal decorating the edges. Much of the station building was built of a seemingly random web of metal supports, panels of glass fixed between them to keep the weather at bay. Altogether it was a most impressive building, combining the delicateness of the elven architecture with sturdy, geometric stonework.

Yulevi ushered them inside, taking Jason by the crook of the elbow. The entire journey here he had walked slightly ahead of Yulevi, keeping her in the corner of his peripheral vision for direction. This was to perpetuate a ruse, explained to Jason earlier.

“You are the master,” Rakesh had instructed. “I am your slave and Yulevi your consort. You must lead, but only pretend to. Yulevi will be your guide as I follow.”

Clothed as he was in Aurok's garments, no-one batted an eye at Jason. And now, in the central station of Domain's imperial city, the trio was practically invisible within the great and varied crowds. There were arrivals from across the kingdom, from the glade elf capital of Belleverde and the farming villages strung like dusty pearls along the rivers. The poor and rich bumped shoulders, the former always offering polite apologies, and people of every race were apparent. While he could easily pick out the ancestry of those pure blooded elves, many were of a mixed race and thus unknown to Jason. Here he saw, for the first time, a darker skinned man with light hair. He made a note to ask Rakesh of this in private.

They passed through the ticketing gates with ease, Yulevi's fabricated identities flawless. She had confessed to preparing an identity book, not unlike an Earthly passport, for Jason a few days after bringing him to Aurok's, revealing her early intention to see him depart the city regardless of Rakesh's wishes. Both she and Rakesh already had false books for such an occasion, hidden with grab bags containing not only clothing and food, but also an assortment of personal effects to add to the legitimacy of their disguises. Yulevi, for instance, travelled with a mirror stamped with the heraldry of her assumed family name. Jason was entirely blown away by the depth of deception these two had taken to secure the party against discovery.

“So, where am I going now?” Jason asked to no one in particular.

“Colcanens,” Yulevi replied. “It’s a town near the mountains.”

“You mean to take him to Ironhaven, don’t you?” Rakesh said coolly.

Yulevi didn’t answer, which Rakesh counted just as clearly as a vocal affirmation.

“The Badlands are no place for him, and it will be easier to...” Rakesh fell into silence.

None of them said anything for some time, not until after they had boarded the train and entered a private cabin. Jason was struck by how similar the vehicle was to its Earthly counterpart, as if the engineers behind the thing had somehow collaborated across worlds.

As the train left the station, Jason became lost in the windows, staring out into the city as it moved through the frame. When it started to rain, the droplets fragmented the city into a kaleidoscope of images, enrapturing Jason further. He wasn’t brought out of the unfocused trance until Rakesh spoke.

“Yulevi,” he said, “we can’t take Jason to Ironhaven or into the Badlands.”

“And why is that?” she countered without looking at the iron elf.

“There are no known way points in the mountains,” he said, sighing. “We can’t hope to get the kid home if we retreat to Ironhaven, despite the safety it offers.”

Caught up in the adventure, Jason had forgotten about the prospect of returning home. While he often thought of home, it seemed something of a pleasant memory, not something he could go back to. With Rakesh’s words, though, Jason was suddenly imbued with an aching nostalgia to lay sprawled in his own bed, woken up from a dream of elven cities and tyrant kings. With a shake of his head he dispelled that futile thought.

“Do you even know how to send me back?” he asked. Both Rakesh and Yulevi stated their lack of knowledge, leaving all three wondering about their course of action. The train sped along toward Colcanens, and at least that much was assured.

“Tell me about Colcanens, Yulevi,” Jason finally said.

“I told you already, it’s a town near the mountains,” she answered.

Obviously, Jason was not happy and restated the question to Rakesh.

“It’s in the glade elves’ country, the easternmost settlement in the kingdom,” he said. “Once, it was a site of trade between the glade and iron elves. It was much larger at this time, and held a considerable population of iron elves, which was unusual as we were a somewhat nomadic people in those days. Anyway, its importance has since dwindled, and with it the population. A large part of the city is now abandoned, making it a favourite haunt of the Resistance.”

“Sounds like more than a town near the mountains,” Jason scoffed.

Yulevi seemed to not hear him and appeared to be lost in the window, as Jason had been before. They were out of Auburg now, and travelling through vast plains. The multicoloured fields rippled past them, again obscured somewhat by the lingering rain, all of it backgrounded by the dark shape of mountains.

“They don’t look that far off,” Jason said. “The mountains, that is.”

“Oh, it would take another day of travel to reach them,” Rakesh replied. “There are dense forests at their feet, which take much more time to pass through than these empty fields.”

“Huh, and how far do the mountains reach?”

“They span the entire eastern border of the kingdom, and fall into the sea at its southern reaches,” Rakesh said. “For all I know, the range could extend endlessly north, as the snow and cold deters all but those with crazed wanderlust.”

“And Ironhaven, it is close to where we are going?”

“That is not for you to know,” Rakesh said flatly. His attitude and disposition toward Jason was entirely different than earlier in the day, when they had joked and shared stories.

Though she did not move her head, Jason saw Yulevi’s eyes dart briefly sideways to meet his upon receiving his answer. In an instant they were again focused out the window, leaving Jason to wonder what sentiment she had intended.

Rakesh’s tone ended the conversation, and the rest of the train ride to Colcanens was made in silence.

The End

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