Watchmen rushed across the train platform, loading equipment and barrels into cargo cars and helped one another into plated armor. University wizards, in their long burgundy robes, fussed to hook canisters of condensed magic to the hulking engine. The lead engineer appeared with a runed rod in hand. He tapped each canister, and the train roared to life. Acrid, rust-colored fumes belched from the smokestack. It filled the air with the scent of spent magic: like copper and cranberries.
If there was any consolation in Theodore’s predicament, it was that he got to see the train. When it was unveiled years ago, the newspaper proclaimed it a triumph of modern engineering. It was a leap beyond the city’s enchanted trolley network and would bring even greater prosperity by making the transport of harvested magic fast and efficient. It was the future.
Which was why the condition of the mangled machine sitting in the depot came as a shock. Paint was stripped in clawing streaks. Burns, dents and pock marks peppered the hull. Windows were cracked or shattered. Iron patchwork was welded onto the original frame. This product of the greatest minds of Laien looked like it had rolled through a war zone.
A woman swaggered up to Theodore, rattling in a gilded but battered suit of armor which appeared much like the train. Her shoulders were broad and her forearms were thick as girders. She had dark hair cropped short. The scar training down her face from eyebrow to chin failed to distract from her manic smile. She pulled Theodore into a wrenching handshake before he had a chance to say anything.
“Myra Redriver!” She said. “Captain of the Watch. You must be our new Ranger Deputy.”
Theodore extracted himself from the handshake before his wrist shattered. “Er, yes. Good day, madam.”
“You’re skinnier than I expected. Would’ve taken you for a cargo inspector if not for the uniform.” She rubbed her chin with calloused hands. “Got your father’s nose. Not much else, though. That’s a pity. He was a fine specimen if you don’t mind me speaking off the record.” She laughed. “Aw. Don’t look so sour. I’m sure if you inherited half of what Lance had to offer, you’re twice a man over.”
Theodore sucked air through his teeth. He looked to change the subject. “This locomotive travels through the Whirlwood?”
“Just to the Fount. Once a month, we escort a bunch of University eggheads, and they operate the equipment which collects the magic radiation. Then we haul it all back to the city so we can power trolleys, trains, lamp posts, factories, you name it. No small job. Whole city would grind to a halt without us here. You’re supposed to double check our numbers so the King knows no one is skimming off the top.”
“Yes, I’ve read my job description,” Theodore said.
“Good!” Myra slapped a heavy hand across his shoulder, almost knocking him over. “I certainly didn’t know what the hell I was doing when I was your age. Minding the details should make you a fine officer.”
Or it would help him escape, Theodore thought.
Lieutenant Fritz grabbed Theodore’s suitcases. “Let’s board. I’d like a seat that’s still got glass in the windows.”