“Never mind that,” Aurora snapped, as Varis and GIlliam made to haul themselves up onto the driver’s bench along the front of the coach. “Just sit down here with the rest of them.”
Gilliam shrugged. “Not like there are any horses to hitch. And those seats look a lot softer than the driver’s board.”
Like most of the coaches I’d seen, this one consisted of two benches, these padded with leather, and mounted on some sort of springs, facing each other across footspace long enough for Varis to stretch his legs comfortably without digging his heels into Sera or Demarra’s toes. Varis and Gilliam took seats to either side of Ana and Silva, sitting opposite Sera, Demarra and I. They were not the least bit cramped for elbow room.
“Maybe we should get the baron one of these,” Gilliam said, as he noticed just how wide the seats were.
Varis wasn’t listening, instead glancing over the edge of the coach, towards the empty front of the vehicle. “Are magical steeds summoned?” he wondered aloud.
Aurora snickered. “No, the magic is much less complex than that,” she said. Rather than sit between Demarra and myself, opposite Silva, the shrike clambered up onto the rear of the carriage, where the frame draped over the large metal tank. She tore a strip from the bottom of her cloak, and wound it around the tall pipe that rose from one side of the tank, holding onto that to steady her perch.
She reached out with her other hand, and sang a note. The red stones on her gauntlets flickered and then brightened to a sharp golden light.
“Nieah,” Silva said. “Svara etah.” She sang a note a half-step lower. I saw annoyance flicker across the shrike’s brow, but she adjusted her pitch until their voices blended into a single tone.
The gold tinge in the stones’ brightened further, and an odd vibration thrummed through the carriage’s frame, against the cushioning at my back.
Demarra and Sera glanced at me, but I only shrugged.
The vibrations increased ever so slightly, until the pipe gave a cough, and then began streaming vapor, as had the coach in which the two cloaked figures had escaped.
And just like it, ours, too, began to roll of its own accord along the metal path laid down.
* * * * *
Cushioned though the seats were, suspended above the deck of the horseless carriage on heavy coils, my teeth still nearly rattled out of my head.
The dwarven contraption reached the speed of a tall man’s run after mere minutes, and within five more, was moving fast enough to outpace an Alaysian white at full gallop. And it still picked up speed.
A lantern fastened to the bottom of the empty driver’s bench threw out a wedge of light, but it only served to illuminate gaps in the even spacing of large glowing spheres bolted to every third or fourth set of stone-shaped columns that lined the tunnel.
I was unable to get a good look at the globes, but it appeared that some sort of worm lay coiled within, its brilliant white glow diffused by a clever frosting of the surrounding crystalline sphere.
“Anuja,” Silva called.
Aurora turned, looking over her shoulder, tossing her head and spitting at a mouthful of her streaming hair.
“You make it too quickly,” Silva said.
“The thief lies ahead of us. We can close the gap.”
“You make the stones too hot. There will be no water left.”
Aurora looked up, at the tall pipe and its billowing cloud of what I’d worked out was steam.
“We must run faster than he,” the shrike insisted.
“I hate to interrupt,” Varis said. He looked back from glancing around over the rim of the front wheel. “My dwarven is a bit rusty,” he said, “but that signpost that just flashed by showed a bent arrow.”
“Stop leaning on me,” Ana said, nudging her arm into Giliam.
“This time it isn’t my fault,” the warrior said. “It’s like some invisible hand is pushing me.”
“Well, tell it to stop!”
I hadn’t noticed it until he said something.
Demarra was not complaining in the least.