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Chapter 3 - Representative of the Septian Church

The train barreled on, almost flying through the thick veil of fog. Droplets of water splattered against the window glass, extending out like transparent veins, and continued to wriggle back and forth under the pressure of the swiftly passing wind.

Placing the temple of my head against the glass, I stared blankly down at the tickets in my hand and rubbed the two of them together between my fingers. I would be traveling by train to the border city, far south of its imperial cousin, and then to reach the Liberl Kingdom I would have to transfer to an airship. Both of my tickets were first-class-- but not the highest-end seats available.

The passenger car was nearly at full capacity, but for some peculiar reason, nobody had seated themselves in the space next to mine. As I mused about the empty seat, it occurred to me that Micht may have purchased the spot ahead of time, leaving it vacant on purpose. There was no doubt in my mind that he was being paid handsomely to make sure this job was done and done well.

'Will you be traveling to the Liberl Kingdom, sir?'

Right around the time my trip on the rails had passed its halfway mark, I was met with this sudden question, and set up with a start. My eyes searched for the one who asked it. There, standing in the isle, was a single woman with a radiant complexion, beaming down at me. She wore a coat with overlapping buckles secured slightly above her breast and appeared to be in her mid-thirties. Gingerly bending her knees and pointing her finger at the empty seat beside me, she asked, 'Do you mind?'

With a tilt of her head, she indicated the rear of the passenger car where swirling smoke saturated the air and softly muttered, 'The smell from the tobacco smoke is just dreadful.'

Wordlessly, I nodded and dragged my bag from its place on the floor, moving it over by the window to the opposite side of my feet. The woman expressed her thanks and delicately sat herself down in the seat next to mine.

For being a perfect stranger, she talked on endlessly, and I appropriately reciprocated the conversation by saying that I was on my way to the Liberl Kingdom on business as an orbment specialist. Her story was that she was on a mission of mercy for the church and had an errand to fulfill in the border city.

'Just so you know, people sometimes refer to me as 'Sister',' she went on. 'Of course, it's just a nickname.'

She recrossed her black leather boot-clad legs and let out a sort of suppressed titter from the back of her throat as she made mention of this. Sister Carnelia was her nickname.

We continued on in this fashion, subjecting ourselves to a variety of idle banter. And as the time drew on, the sun overhead began to dip in its arc, crossing the celestial meridian and descending into the west. Each time the moving train cleared a grove of trees, the entire vehicle-- passenger cars and all-- was bathed in a warm apricot hue, flooding into the cabins, creating a majestic spectacle. I gaped at the coruscating effect, and in doing so locked eyes with Sister Carnelia right at the moment the brilliance of the sinking western light seeped into her rich brown irises, causing them to give off an exquisite rubescent sparkle. The glimpse made me wonder if the origin of her nickname was somehow related to the color of her eyes being likened unto the luster of a polished carnelian stone.

The train gradually began to decelerate, and Sister Carnelia returned to her original seat in order to collect her bags. As a matter of habit, I checked my bag and orbment and found both the junk paper-covered package and the magical device fastened into my trousers' inner pocket by a series of chain stitches-- exactly where and how I'd left it.

A woman's voice came over the intercom system announcing that the train would be arriving on schedule and that rainy weather was to be expected at our destination. At the conclusion of the announcements, a number of disappointed sighs could be heard coming from along the rows of seats. Raindrops pattered against the windows outside as the looming silhouette of the overcast city came into view. The station's signal lamp emitted an angular light which was scattered with a refractive effect by the falling droplets of water. Then came a spine-chilling metallic sound followed by the jolt of the orbal engine's reversing thrust as the locomotive at the front of the train lurched to a halt.

Over the loudspeaker came another announcement asking passengers to ensure that they did not leave their baggage behind. And with that, several people stood up and crowded into the aisle. Watching a station worker in uniform as he waved a small flag amidst the falling rain, I picked up my bag and rose to my feet. I crossed paths with Sister Carnelia as I attempted to step into the aisle, but when she tried to step aside and allow me room to pass, she suddenly tripped and fell forward. Grabbing onto my shoulder for support, she picked herself up and, with an embarrassed smile, let me by. I gave her a short bow in line with general etiquette practices, then headed for the exit ahead of her. Following my lead, Sister Carnelia shuffled along closely behind me-- so close, in fact, that it felt as if she would step on my heels.

Something about it just didn't feel right.

Instinctively sliding my right hand into my pocket, I searched for my orbment, but the brass feeling I had grown accustomed to was nowhere to be felt.

In an instant, I felt my arm being twisted behind my back by someone or something with incredible strength. The sleek sound of a blade being unsheathed and then a warning prick of the tip at my back indicated the seriousness of the situation.

'I have what you're looking for, Toby,' whispered Sister Carnelia in an almost inaudible tone, her lips barely moving just behind my right ear. 'Let's not try anything either, shall we? I'd hate to see your afternoon spoiled any more than it's going to be.' And to show that she meant business, Sister Carnelia slightly altered the angle of her grip on my wrist, causing an explosion of agony that sent sparks flashing behind my eyes.

第3回 シスター