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Chapter 8 - In the Bowels of the Imperial City

Moving purposefully through the crowd, we made our way between the rows of seats. Each time the swinging bag in hand struck the side of my knee, I became keenly aware of its presence. It was an unnerving feeling, quite like I had unintentionally brushed up against someone in an offensive way. Furthermore, it was nearly inconceivable to my mind that the ancient relic the jaeger corps were pursuing with such a frenzy was sitting right here inside the stitched cloth of this cheap hand bag.

What a fool Micht had been. Hadn't he known the burden this object would bring would be one far more weighty than the both of us could have ever hoped to bear?

I squeezed my eyes shut against the thoughts flying around my mind and addressed Sister Carnelia, who followed closely behind me. 'Will we be making a break for the cathedral once we get off?'

'Yes, that was the plan,' she answered, scanning the scene outside the window of the passenger car. 'I think that's the only option we've got if you want to make it through this day alive.'

The station where the train was set to arrive was unremittingly crowded with countless droves of passengers. And as usual, the sky was slightly overcast. Everyone outside on the platform stood shivering in silence with their collars drawn up to their ears, huddling close to one another for warmth, like a flock of waterfowl out on the tidelands in mid-winter.

'Don't worry, I won't be tossing you down a flight of stairs this time, Toby,' jested Sister Carnelia. 'Although, if there were two more of you at my disposal, I might have decided otherwise,' she added.

Evidently, the numbers in our welcome party this time had seen a rather dramatic increase.

'The odds don't appear to be in our favor,' she said in a low voice, her warm breath tickling the lobe of my ear. 'We won't be able to leave through the ticket gate.'

As soon as we stepped off the train, we stealthily moved to the opposite end of the platform, and after sneaking out a large door for only authorized station personnel, we jumped down onto the path of railroad ties and steel rails below. The biting cold wind of the capital swept freely across the unobstructed railroad tracks, causing me to shudder as it ruffled our coats with its chilly touch. Slipping between the couplers of a pair of freight cars, we moved cautiously along their edge, sticking close to the shadows. Over on the cargo platform, workers were busy unloading containers.

For someone who had his mind set on becoming a dealer of pilfered goods, gaining illicit entry into the station house would be one of the first of all basics. Showing my ticket I spoke politely to one of the workers. Then, with a scenario picked out in my head, I sold it to him as I played the part of a manager here on business with a celebrity of notable repute. Midway through our conversation, I introduced Sister Carnelia, who did her best to show the man a glamorous smile and feminine pose. I had possibly gone a bit overboard when I stated that she was an opera singer, because the way that she carried herself made her look more akin to a low-wage sell-song in a bar of drunkards. Yet, in spite of it all, the worker graciously let us through.

'You're so good at that it's almost scary, Toby,' Sister Carnelia said as we raced through the station's warehouse sector. 'You should seriously consider doing another job,' she went on.

'I bet you're going to tell me to join the Bracer Guild, right? Come on, those guys would turn me down in a heartbeat,' I said as I laughed off the thought. Then, throwing the idea back in her court I asked, 'So how about yourself? Why don't you join the Bracer Guild?'

Reaching the end of the warehouse sector, we came to a stop in front of a large chain-link fence. Sister Carnelia crouched down, and while sliding a drainage cover to the side, laughed at my previous question as if it were insane.

'Are you kidding?' she asked. 'They'd gun me down the second I set foot into one of their branches.'

The winding, narrow stone tunnels like the one we were in ran everywhere beneath the capital. We crawled along as the light shining down through the drainage grates on the side of the large road above us illuminated the way like a trail of flickering orbal lampposts. The feet of those walking along the avenue passed right by where we were, but not a single person noticed us scraping our way along below them. And for some strange reason or another, the world just beyond the thin flagstone-paved road appeared so dazzling in my eyes. Yet, the Jaeger Corps, loss of the artifact in hand, and a senseless, sudden death; all of which had never crossed my mind before; lay in wait for me dared I to venture into the open world above.

As we pressed on, I began to think that the small round tunnel which we were crawling through would run on forever, when finally it merged with a high-ceilinged sewer surrounded by walls of countless blocks of chiseled stone.

'We'll go through here and make our way over to where the cathedral is located,' Sister Carnelia insisted. Raising one brow, she pointed her finger upward. 'It's a lot safer down here than it is up there.'

'That's fine and all, but what are we going to do if it gets attacked?'

Sister Carnelia grabbed my hand, and with that, stepped into the muddy darkness beyond. 'Don't worry, Toby,' she reassured me. 'Faith isn't the only thing supporting the church.'

第8回 帝都の腸