Train in the Clouds
The night had now enveloped everything with its darkness: the stars in the sky, clearer and brighter than ever, almost created a path for the flying locomotive as it sped over invisible tracks. The clouds had now disappeared and all the cabins were illuminated by retro lamps, attached to the ceilings of the rooms. I was awakened by Mivrea who got up to light up one.
"Mivrea-san .." I rubbed my eyes, still half sleepy, "what's going on?"
"I woke up just in time. A servant came here to ask for you and said you must go to the restaurant cabin." Mivrea explained while adjusting her dress. "In the meantime, I'm going to find a bathroom."
We got up at the same moment: the princess lifted the skirt of her dress and, with a serene air (I didn't bother asking myself why), went out first while I dragged myself towards the door. My heart was going crazy.
The time had finally come.
I found a young man, with blond hair pulled back, waiting for me at the end of the corridor. He carried a white handkerchief with him on his outstretched arm. I approached dazed, with slow steps.
"How do you reach the restaurant cabin?" I asked, clutching my hand to my chest.
"Follow me, Master Heiji. It is my job to guide you. You can call me Rahul." the man said in a loud and determined voice. Too loud since he was almost screaming.
I followed the man into the various luxurious carriages. I was able to witness various scenes as he passed: outside the sliding doors, various intellectuals, wearing intricate tricorn hats, argued, and all things I was able to hear didn't make much sense. At least at the time.
"But, if what you say is true, why don't humans have fins?" Countered one while waving his arms.
"Stupid, of course they do. They are ..." one blurted out, as he smoked a pipe made of a strange material.
"You don't know anything about humans."
The last one finished. "Don't you know they come from beings called monkeys? I've never seen one, but I bet they're ugly and bald."
'Of course these guys are really weird.' I told myself as I shrugged. 'That's why Mivrea-san seems crazy.'
We then passed on wagons that had bathrooms, others decorated with tropical features and others were full of keys, controls and strange machines. I observed that a reddish liquid was leaking from one of them. I guessed it was some kind of wine but the label said 'KRUT DRINK'. Finally, we arrived in front of yet another door, this time of a metallic color.
"We have arrived." Rahul announced, then he got closer to my troubled face, "You will speak to an illustrious figure, so I advise you not to make mistakes."
Then he pushed me in with a lot of energy and not very gently, leaving me even more stunned. My legs felt weak and I struggled to walk normally.
A short man with a slender physique sat behind a table. He wore a dark jacket, a striped shirt underneath and a tie, also striped, tight pants and elegant, stiff shoes, which looked very expensive. He had a cigarette between his lips. (I later found out that it was an object considered very rare and therefore used only by people in prestigious positions.)
A strong acrid smell flooded the room, even though the windows were mostly wide open. Silence reigned all around and gave that individual a majestic and powerful air. Only a few tables were occupied by certain men dressed entirely in black.
I winced, thinking that I was just a simple boy, lover of comics and beautiful girls, who suddenly found all these benefits.
"Heiji Yamamura-kun." The stranger solemnly declared as he pulled the cigarette out of his mouth and released an ambiguous pile of red smoke. "Sit in front of me."
"Y-yes, sir." I did as ordered in a clumsy way and sat in the chair opposite the man's. 'He has the attitude of some yakuza, better not joke around here.' I thought.
"My name is Duval Bohémien. I am one of the Secretaries of His Highness Gustave Seiler, undisputed king of the Skies. I would like to explain to you well what is happening here, Heiji-kun." He continued, between a puff of red and another, coming from his mouth.
Every word Duval spoke made me tremble and I had to keep myself from sweating like a pig.
"You have been selected as the next Knight of Honor, an important position on the social ladder and in close contact with the Sovereign." And he paused for a second, "If you think everything is going to be served to you on a silver platter now, you are very wrong. There will be various tests and all the people you see here have come exclusively to watch the new chosen one in action. "
Duval sighed and one of the nearby men stood up and handed him a document. The paper, however, was so transparent that the dark characters could also be read from the opposite side.
"Heiji Yamamura, 16 years old. Born on December 23 of the year 2002." He began reading, "Son of Tomoko and Kenji Yamamura. Grandson of the 'Traitor Thief', Daichi Yamamura."
My eyes widened and, with a quick movement, I lifted my body from the chair.
"What do you mean by 'Traitor Thief'!?"
"You see, Heiji-kun," Duval said after a long pause, "you know your grandfather was selected 50 years ago. But you don't know what happened next, do you?"
"Yes, but my grandfather wouldn't do anything wrong! How can you call him that?" A guard came up to me after I angrily slammed my hands on the table and told me to stop.
At that, I whispered, frightened, an "Excuse me."
"Your grandfather, I was saying, was selected, as it has been the rule for the past 400 years, as a Knight of Honor after saving the life of a non-human child, who happened to be a member of the royal family. He got on this train and managed to pass most of the tests, but then did something unacceptable. "
"What did he do?" I asked firmly while clenching my fists. A strong anxiety was growing inside me.
"He stole one of His Majesty's amphorae from the Hall of Treasures." He explained, wrapped in his red smoke, which was starting to make him look even more menacing, "I think you know what I'm talking about."
At that moment, my grandfather's grim look and the trembling in his hands came back to me. Several times, when my grandfather mentioned that vase, he looked at it as if it were something that changed his life.
But I, small and naive, believed it was a positive change, such as, for example, a precious treasure discovered by him or a gift from someone important. Instead, all the warnings carried a grudge against himself, a sense of disgust for the crime he had committed and strong feelings of guilt.
"You mean the cloud catcher." I said in a faint voice. Duval nodded at my answer.
"Exactly, it was the most precious creation ever given to the royal family."
"So why didn't you come to get it back? Maybe… my grandfather would have felt better if that thing hadn't stayed there."
I slid dead weight into the chair, as my legs were too weak to hold me. My head was full of unanswered questions.
"We should have but the limit between Earth and the Sky cannot be crossed. Only when the train goes down among the humans, we are allowed to set foot. The royal family is the only one who is allowed to go down several times, but, even there, there's a certain limit. Anyway, in case you come back, the cloud catcher will be gone, because I have given the order to my men to find it and return it." Duval's gaze became dangerous and I began to pant.
Then I thought about my parents and the shop.
I could already imagine my father's panic on seeing that marvel disappeared from the shop. Or maybe Duval's agents had come in just when he was in the shop checking and stole the object of force from him? Asking was mandatory.
"My father ... you didn't do anything to him, did you?" I was starting to get nervous. My forehead was now beaded with sweat.
"No. I was told that the shop was empty when the amphora was picked up."
This made me breathe a sigh of relief and I mumbled a "Thank goodness."
"Listen, Heiji-kun, this is a ritual that has been going on for 400 years. You don't want to betray people's expectations like Daichi Yamamura did, right?" Duval stood up and, with a grin, threw the cigarette at his feet and pounded it. As he moved, all the people around him followed him and everyone left the room. Everyone except poor me.
Rahul showed up again and brought me a cup of water, apprehensively.
"Thank you, Rahul-san," I thanked him after emptying the cup of its contents, "but I think I'm going to rest. I need to rearrange my thoughts."
I walked to my suite, hands in my pockets.
"Why me, though?" I wondered, then snorted loudly. At that, I remembered that I hadn't asked him so many things. But there would have been a time for everything.
The butler walked a few metres from me and observed my behaviour with a faint smile. He probably he had overheard the conversation.
Before reaching my destination, however, I decided to go take a bath in the Bathroom cabin. Rahul handed me a warm towel and told me to take off my clothes, then led me to a small space where there was a circular bathtub, embedded in the marble. Ahead of it were several white marble steps, the only way to enter.
"Thanks for showing me the way, but, umh, could you leave me alone?" I asked embarrassed as I hid my private parts with the towel.
"Certainly, sir. Let me do just one thing." And he hurried out.
A few moments later, the room began to move and the ceiling closed in on itself, making me find myself under a pristine sky of stars. I let out a 'woah' of surprise and a big smile appeared on my face.
I would never have thought of bathing in a tub made of such precious materials, with such clear and warm water, under that nocturnal spectacle. It warmed my heart a little from the cold news I was given earlier.
I thought that even Mivrea's pouting face, after that pain, could have created some comfort for me. And before I could think of anything else, I told myself that, perhaps, with a minimum of luck, I would have found Mivrea, with her little half-naked body, asking me to stay there with me.
The silly ideas of a teenager, of course.
"I wish this moment would last forever." I mumbled, aware that many things would have happened to me from now on, and I abandoned myself to that feeling of relaxation that the atmosphere gave me.