The train rolled into Colcanens accompanied by a cloud of steam and a shrill whistle. Jason was again struck with the similarities between these elven trains and their earth-bound counterparts. Though the journey had been made in relative silence, he was always aware of the sounds the train made as it sped through the countryside: the ever present noise of the wheels on the tracks, the soft chuffing of the steam engine at the front, and the low notes of the bell mounted on the caboose. It was a symphony of sorts, something he had missed out on riding the electric trains of his home.
In Colcanens they were not forced to maintain their strict disguises. As a glade elf herself, Yulevi was perfectly at home and not forced to act the part of consort to Jason. Instead, it was she who now guided him, one hand on his shoulder. Even Rakesh’s role had changed; no longer posing as Jason’s servant, he was free to walk in stride with the others. It was true he still carried both his and Yulevi’s luggage, but out of chivalry rather than servitude.
“So, this is Colcanens,” Jason said as they left the small station. The small glade elf city contained a world of difference from the capital, Auburg. The buildings were of similar construction, though due to their shorter stature Jason saw that wood was more common. He also noted that there was less glass used, fewer banks of windows and clear facades. The streets were not as grand, and the streetcar system he had become accustomed to in Auburg was entirely absent. It seemed that everyone here walked.
He turned to Rakesh, at his right. “You been here before, Kesh?”
The bigger man nodded curtly. “Just once before, when I first left home for Auburg. A long time ago, now.”
“Do you ever go back? Home, that is?”
He shook his head to say no.
Jason saw a lot of himself in Rakesh that instant, but the similarities faded quickly as Yulevi quipped that Rakesh might be heading home soon after all.
“This isn’t the place to discuss that, Yuli,” the iron elf countered.
As on the train, the subject ended the conversation entirely, and the trio made their way through Colcanens in complete silence. This was alright for Jason, as it left him able to survey and stare at the city.
After a twenty minute walk they came upon what Jason assumed was the elvish equivalent of a hotel.
An inn? he thought to himself. It was still difficult for him to reconcile the normality and modernity of these elves.
They went inside and Yulevi arranged for a room. The exchange took only a few moments, though Jason saw no money change hands.
“Is this one of your safe houses?” Jason whispered to Rakesh.
“No,” he whispered back. “Yulevi is just very well connected. She is a valuable resource to the Resistance.”
Jason nodded slowly as Yulevi returned from the desk to fetch them.
“Come,” she said. “They’ve got us around the back of the building; the rooms around us will be vacant during our stay.”
Within a minute they were safe in their room, door locked and bolted behind them. Jason fell onto the bed, which, while not as plush as the one in Aurok’s apartment, was a welcome change from the firm seats on the train. He had tried to sleep on the journey but couldn’t manage to quiet his mind. With their arrival in Colcanens, Jason wanted nothing more than to sleep. Rakesh had awoken him early to train, and his lesson on the Wheel seemed to be days ago.
Yulevi and Rakesh, however, wasted no potential time for their arguing. Almost immediately after sliding the bolts in to place Rakesh had voiced his continued protests at heading to Ironhaven.
“It isn’t an option, Yuli,” he said in a harsh whisper. “As I said before, there are no known waypoints in the badlands, which negates any protection we might find there.”
“And would you rather spend our time running across Domain?” Yulevi said back. “It could be weeks, months even, before we even have a chance to stop and suss out what we’re doing. We need a plan, Rakesh, and for that we need time to plan.”
“Plan for what?” Rakesh said through barred teeth. “Plan for getting Jason home, or plan how to use him in the Resistance?”
Yulevi narrowed her gaze, but did not answer. Jason perked up slightly, raising himself from the bed on his forearms.
“That’s right, Yuli,” Rakesh continued. “What is the plan for Jason? What do you think his goals are? You think he wants to stay here, live and possibly die for a cause in a land he hadn’t even known of until recently?”
“I-“ Jason started, though Rakesh cut him off.
“No, Jason,” he said. “We should be trying to get you back to your home, not enlisting you in our revolution.”
Yulevi’s voice quivered as she spoke. “Do you understand what could become of Jason, a human, being in Domain? It has been so long since-“
“I will not make a martyr of him!” Rakesh shouted. And then, quietly, “I will not lose another friend.”
“Kesh,” Jason whispered. He intended to say more, but couldn’t find the words.
“He died fighting,” Yulevi said, all emotion drained from her voice. “He wouldn’t be taken without a fight. Aurok forced the Guard to kill him, ensuring our secrets would be safe.”
Rakesh sat at the end of one of the beds, hung his head, and clasped his hands over his face. “He had so few secrets to share.”
“He knew you, Rakesh. He knew me. And he knew the faces of many other agents through Auburg.”
“But he didn’t have to die.”
“Does anyone ever have to?” Yulevi asked.
Rakesh looked up, his eyes wet and red. “I know at least one gold elf who does.”
Silence hung for a few moments before being broken by a knock at the door.
“I thought you said we wouldn’t be disturbed,” Rakesh said, rising to answer.
“They’re probably just checking on my safety,” Yulevi said. “A glade elf woman and an iron elf man, the later of which is screaming at her? I would be concerned for my patrons, too.”
Rakesh scowled as he unbolted the door. He opened it slowly, cautiously, which proved to be his salvation.
Jason saw it first from his vantage point on the bed, though Yulevi was first to give voice to the situation. In the sliver of space between door and door frame the two saw a glimmer of metal, armour that an innkeeper would not be wearing.
“Rakesh, the Guard!” Yulevi screamed. Rakesh immediately shouldered the door closed, using his great weight to keep it shut as he re-engaged the bolts.
“Leave with Jason, the safe house shouldn’t be far,” she said, regaining control of her nerves.
“Not without you!” Rakesh said, body still pressed to the door. In the hallway there was muffled shouting, and the occasional thud as the Guard tried to break the door down.
“One of us must stay behind, and I don’t know the way to Ironhaven.”
Rakesh looked like he was about to raise further objections, but Yulevi continued.
“I can handle myself, you protect Jason.” She drew both her pistol and sword as she said this. “Now go!”
Jason moved closer to the window, one of the grab bags in his hands, but Rakesh remained rooted to the spot, his face awash with concern.
“Go!” Yulevi screamed. She emptied a few rounds into the door, expertly avoiding Rakesh’s body. Wood splintered and pained shouts erupted in the hall.
Seeing her vicious intent, Rakesh reluctantly moved from the door.
“Promise me you’ll be alright,” he said, eyes still wet with tears over Aurok.
“When you and Jason escape safely, only then will I flee.”
A trio of answering shots tore through the door, knocking one of the bolts free.
Rakesh and Yulevi exchanged long stares, but no more words passed between them. Finally the elf man raced to the window and helped Jason through. The pair then ran down the back alley, leaving the chaos of the inn behind them.