A gorgeous view of the mountainside, carpeted in lush green grass, greets the eye, illuminated by brilliant sunlight. Trees and bushes adorned with flowers in an array brilliant colors are placed in an orderly fashion around the stands, buildings, and elaborate, intricate rides that stretch for as far as one can see, built into the variable slope both above and below. Elegant statuary and carvings, some of them suggestive or outright erotic, add to the ornamentation at the center of small parks or frescoed onto the buildings.
The tram stationhouse is reminiscent of a huge gazebo, all white and latticework, with an arched roof covering the platform and a section of the nearby track, providing shelter from the sun for the waiting crowd. A ticket booth occupies one corner of the platform, nearest the track, while a red satin rope mounted on waist-high brass poles separates the boarding area from the waiting area. A half-dozen faceless Eeee lounge beneath the roof, fanning themselves as they wait.
Seated with some waiting Eeee is a Gallee who looks more than slightly out of place. She, dressed in a deep blue officer's uniform minus any sort of armoring, fans herself idly with a folded sheet of parchment. By the rather bored expression on her face it might appear she has been waiting for some time.
Rushing up to platform, a little Aeolun girl waves a ticket around. "Wheee! Off to ride the Flying Drokar!!"
The white poodle woman pauses in her fanning and looks up to regard the little Aeolun. "Not without proper supervision," she tells her without missing a beat. The officer begins to stand, excusing herself from those around her.
An Eeee wearing a flat straw hat smiles at the Aeolun child as she steps up the platform. "Going to take the tram to the Flying Drokars?" he asks her, then glances to the poodle as she speaks, too.
Envoy pauses at the word 'supervision'. "That means no water balloons, right?" she asks, calming down, then smiling up at the Eeee. "Yup! Won tickets!"
The Eeee holds out his hand to the child, waiting to be passed the ticket.
"No, … no water balloons," responds the Gallee woman without hesitation. She finds that even despite not knowing what a water balloon is exactly, she feels inclined to deny it anyway. In her mind, it simply sounds improper. She strolls over to the Aeolun child and offers her a hand.
The Child holds out her tickets. "One is for my friend Elise here," she says, taking the poodle's hand.
The Eeee attendant examines the tickets, then nods, handing them back to the little winged unicorn. "These are for the Flying Drokar, all right. You'll need different tickets for the tram, I'm afraid. Two shekels per person but children ride free, with an adult." He looks again to Elise.
Envoy looks up to Elise and smiles expectantly.
The blue dressed officer removes a pouch from her belt and promptly removes the request fare. These she offers to the attendant while returning a smile to the young Aeolun.
Ceremoniously, the man accepts the coins, letting them slide through a slot in the box beside him, clinking as they strike the bottom. He issues the poodle and child each a tickets yellow for the child, and blue for the canine. "Should be along soon," he announces. "Would you like some complimentary water balloons?" he asks, holding forth what looks like a few brightly colored scraps of material.
"Ooooo!" Envoy says, eyeing the balloons, then asking Elise, "Can we? It'll keep you from getting any motion sickness!"
"No," responds Elise, shaking her head. "If you get wet on the rides you may well catch a cold, First Ones forbid."
"I've never had a cold before," the little Exile comments. "Are they really cold? It's sort of hot now, so wouldn't that be a good thing to have?"
"Sure?" The Eeee waves the empty balloons, one yellow, one white, one blue. "They're free." As he says this, the track beside them vibrates, making the platform tremble as well, while a distant clattering sound can now be made out.
Elise turns her head to the sky and makes a vaguely pained 'First Ones save me' expression. She then returns her gaze to the Aeolun and taps her nose with a finger. "You, dear, are a very complicated child."
Envoy rubs her nose where it's been tapped, and giggles. "I've got lots of moving parts!"
The poodle glances down the track for a moment. "I am certain you do. Now, it seems our 'tram' will be arriving shortly. Remember we are to meet a goddess, so I want you to try and keep presentable," says the poodle.
"Ah, I bet Inala doesn't even wear clothes," Envoy says, "much less care if they're mussed up!"
The bat's laughter at the banter of the two can barely be heard over the growing clattering. With a whoosh of black smoke mixed with white steam, a train-like contraption rattles into place beside the station. A sleekly designed bat's head, with ears sweeping back flat, decorates the lead car, its huge eyes forming the windows for the engineer to see out of. The cars it pulls behind it are small and short by comparison, with enough room for three rows of two people each to sit on padded benches with narrow vertical backs. As it pulls in, a few Eeee passengers fly out of the roofless cars.
"Let's sit up near the front!" Envoy begs the poodle. "Maybe the engine will blow up!"
The poodle's eyes widen slightly. "Well, I, she must … " though missing the arrival of the tram initially due to mild shock, she promptly finds it when she searches for a way out of the conversation, "Oh! Yes the tram is here. Come along now." She then begins walking with the Aeolun to the rear of the train.
Envoy takes her seat quietly, but leans out as far as possible to see forward along the length of the train.
Steam and smoke vents from the nostrils of the engine in billowing clouds as it sits, still vibrating slightly, at the station. "All aboard!" the attendant proclaims loudly, and faceless Eeee mill to their seats, as the attendant walks down the ranks taking tickets, tearing them in half, and returning them to the embarked passengers.
Elise in turn seats herself after Envoy. She carefully smoothes out the skirt of her uniform before adjusting her sword just so, and then fussing with how exactly she sits until she is both comfortable and proper. It's something of a process, really.
Holding out her ticket for the attendant, Envoy wonders if Elise has nightmares of snap reviews or something.
The seats feature a bar in front of them, and backs narrow enough to comfortably accommodate wings to either side, and most have a belt over the front which may be fastened around the passenger's waist, although Elise's appears to be missing the buckle half of the strap. After all the passengers are embarked, the attendant waves to the engineer, and with a roar and a momentary jet of flame from the engine's molded ears, it surges forward.
The poodle woman looks around for a moment after the train has begun its movement forward. With some obvious surprise she notes the distinct lack of a seatbelt buckle and quickly decides to hold on to the rail with both hands.
Envoy grins and leans over as far as possible in seat to get a good view. She doesn't have to worry about falling, after all…
With the seats Elise selected, a good view of the front is hard to come by, but Envoy can see the landscape spread beside them as the tram slides over tracks leading down the mountainside, quickly picking up speed. The wind of acceleration whips Envoy's mane around, and musses the uniform Elise carefully straightened moment before.
"Woohoo!" the Aeolun calls! "Have you ever gone so fast before, Elise?"
The snow-white poodle continues to grip the bar, finding the idea of a mussed up uniform preferable to plummeting off the ride. She answers Envoy's question with what sounds like a whispered prayer, or maybe it wasn't an answer at all.
As the train races past, Aeolun sees an Eeee juggling a pair of balls, a dagger, and a flaming sword in one otherwise empty square. Elise glimpses, from the corner of her eye, a Naga and an Eeee moving side by side although there's something wrong about the sight which gnaws at the back of her mind as the tram plummets onwards.
"They could use something like this to train airship crews how to react to a gasbag failure!" Envoy suggests to the Templar.
The forward momentum of the vehicle pushes its passengers backwards into their seats. Abruptly, overhead, the two can see an upside-down curve of steel and wooden track. Then their car climbs steeply, and almost before they know it they are the ones upside-down, with the whole of the park overhead, and nothing but a thin track and the sky beneath their feet.
Envoy laughs and claps and has a wonderful time, as only a child can.
Lifting her head slightly, Elise's head twists to try and track the Naga and Eeee as the train rushes past their position. Her eyes narrow and for the moment she worries less about holding on and more about just who those two people were. The steep climb of the train snaps her attention back to the here however, and she firmly digs her legs into her seat while clinging to the bar for dear life.She buries her head into her arms and waits for this part to finish.
The fleeting sense that the Naga and bat were not walking together, but somehow merged together, is almost obliterated by the immediate rush of sensation generated by the looping tram. As it pulls out of the loop, it takes a sudden wrenching twist, cars clattering and the tag-end car, which Envoy and Elise are in, actually pulling free of the track for a moment before thudding back into it as the tram starts back up the slope.
Envoy loses track of which way is up, but doesn't seem to mind as she whoops!
The upwards climb is less exhilarating than the downhill plunge, and affords a better view of the park, with grandiose open theaters and an oddly familiar facade to an immense dance hall. Artificial lakes and rivers wend their way through the park, with Eeee at play within them.
"Isn't this great, Elise?" the girl asks her companion. "You can see so much!"
Meanwhile the poodle presses her ears against her head and bites her lip, lifting herself enough where she can look around during this lull in the excitement. She peers off over the side of the tram and watches the Eeee below. "The dance hall," she tells the Aeolun, lifting a hand barely long enough to point at it before she grabs the bar again.
Eventually, it curves down and makes another long, wind-whistling descent, plummeting swiftly over the track, bouncing and clattering as it builds up momentum. This time the slope they tumble down is so steep that they can see the coming loop in the track even around the heads and seat-backs of the Eeee in front of them. This one looks … bigger.
"Oooo, better hold tight!" Envoy warns.
Just like before, Elise digs her feet into the seat to hold herself to the car while clinging to the bars with such force her hands might be white even if they were not already. She buries her head in her arms and whispers a few more prayers.
With a dizzying lurch, the cars rocket into the curve. The track screams as the engineer slams on the brakes, and the tram slows even as the engine climbs to near-vertical. The string of cars continue to slow through the curve, and the entire tram comes to a halt upside down over the track, hair and loose clothing swaying as it points downwards, away from the bodies of their owners.
Envoy takes the opportunity to look around at the layout of the park "above" her, now that the tram is still.
Fearless Eeee children, and some adults, unfasten their seat belts and grab the bar as they swing out of their seats. Some hang onto the bar with both hands, while others fly out of the tram and loop around the cars, laughing and giggling.
The Aeolun looks tempted to join in the antics, but holds off since Elise can't fly.
Dangling white curly hair hands from Elise's up-side-down head, obscuring her face behind the snowy shroud of locks. She wedges her feet even more against the car, appearing to strain greatly just to remain in the seat at all.
The beautiful park landscape has an odd feeling to it, as Envoy examines it in more depth from this vantage point. It gives the impression of being vast and eternally different, with boundaries that cannot be seen even from here. Yet Envoy find herself with the sensation that everything in it is, somehow, all the same.
"I didn't think it would be so big!" Envoy tells Elise, then notices the other's tension. "Are you okay, Elise?"
"Wonderful," replies Elise. One of her legs slips slightly causing her body to slip from the seat an inch or so. She reacts by inhaling sharply and readjusting the leg lest it slip further.
After what seems like an minute to Envoy, and an eternity to Elise, a whistle blows from the engine of the tram. Most of the passengers who had flown free come back to the bars before their seats, and the engineer blows the whistle again before the tram lurches forward again. The bar-holding Eeee get back into their seats as the tram pulls out of the loop and twists back up the slope.
"We're right-side up again now Elise!" Envoy chirps.
Now that the tram has returned to being right-side up, the noblewoman noticeably relaxes. Her grip on the bar relents and her feet cease to dig into the chair. Her head however does not lift, instead she leaves it on her arms as she catches her breath.
The ride continues in this fashion, zigzagging up and down the mountain, with quiet views on the way up, and a number of breath-taking loops and heart-stopping steep curves on the way down, although it has no more upside-down stops. After perhaps fifteen minutes, the tram pulls into a station that seems identical in every way to the one they had left from, down to the hat on the Eeee attendant, and the anonymous bats lounging in the waiting area.
Envoy whispers to Elise, "Do you think the attendants are all the same bat?"
After panting for a minute or two, Elise nods her head against her arms. "I would not be surprised," she answers. "In fact, even when you were not present, I have encountered him everywhere. I would go so far as to say we do not get along."
"Well, you did knock him down that one time," Envoy says, and wiggles out of her seat to the platform. "And you shouldn't be so serious! You'll have plenty of time to act old when you really are old!" she adds with a giggle.
The Eeee attendant gives no sign of recognizing the pair as he comes to urge them to disembark from the now-stopped vehicle. "Unless you'd like to ride it on the way back," he offers. "Two shekels per person, children ride free with a grown up!"
"Which way to the Flying Drokar from here, sir?" Envoy asks politely.
Quickly at the mention of "Unless you'd like to ride it the way back" does the Templar stand and drag herself off the ride. She follows Envoy for a moment before she spots one of the wooden poles that hold up the overhang, and she shifts herself to lean against it so that she might rest.
"Right over there!" the man replies cheerfully, pointing across the street from the stationhouse, where a big sign says, "See the Flying Drokar!" with a fanciful picture of a cartoony-looking winged Drokar underneath it, smiling broadly. The sign is over an arch with a road leading through it towards a barn, alongside a grassy pasture where decidedly wingless Drokars frolic.
"Thanks!" Envoy says, and grabs Elise's hand. "C'mon Elise! You can't be worn out! You're a warrior and all, plus you're already asleep and getting lots of rest!"
The poodle woman sighs softly, letting Envoy take her hand and lead her along. "Yes of course," she tells the child. "After all, I have already died once." She straightens herself out a bit though she doesn't seem too enthusiastic for her revelation, or for Envoy's.
As the two head off, the bat attendant leans down and whispers into Envoy's ear, "I think she's been acting old even when she really was young," and slips a water balloon into the Aeolun's unoccupied hand.
Envoy grins and hides the balloon in her robe.
The poodle in the mean time does nothing to help the idea she appears old. Actually, she rather makes it worse by adjusting her uniform again and dusting herself off.
"You must know how to ride a Drokar already, right Elise?" Envoy asks, innocently. "Nobles train for that sort of thing, don't they?"
Curious Drokars trot up to the fence alongside the road as the pair walk beneath the sign and towards the barn at the far end. A weathered German Shepherd sits on a big rock near the barn, with one leg stretched out before him, staring at the sky with a distant expression on his face.
Envoy waves her tickets at the Shepherd, and asks, "Excuse me sir, are you the keeper for the Flying Drokar?"
Elise smiles at the little Aeolun. "Of course. It is not uncommon, rather, it is somewhat expected noble men and women learn how to ride." She follows Envoy to the keeper and greets him with a formal nod. "We are here with tickets to ride the Flying Drokar. Your timely assistance would be most appreciated."
"Keeper?" the shepherd asks, looking at the tickets. He chuckles. "I suppose you say that. Here, let me see those." He holds his hand out for the tickets.
Envoy hands them over.
He studies the tickets for a moment, then pockets them. "Looks all in order. Just a second." He gets to his feet and pulls open the main door of the barn. The gloom within makes a sharp contrast with warm, sunlit day, as the German Shepherd barks, "Two to fly, Jaym!" into the dark interior.
"I much prefer him to the attendants previous," mentions Elise.
The Aeolun peeks into the dark barn.
An Eeee groom emerges from the dark doorway, leading two magnificent beasts. Shaped like Drokar, but covered in short, compact feathers, one gleams like molten gold in the sunlight, tossing its head to make a mane of fine white down shiver along its serpentine neck. Its reins and saddle are of supple white leather. The other mount glows a pristine white, almost painful to look at in the light of the sun, with tack of a deep cobalt blue. Each has a pair of great feathered wings, bound at their sides with leather bands that match their riding gear.
Envoy wows! "They match our colors! What are their names?"
The snowy white poodle's eyes widen at the sight of the two magnificent animals. She begins forward towards the one that matches her own color, and beams a smile at it that's quite unlike her. "Impressive … ," she says with a tone marked by wonder.
The German shepherd pushes his hat back on his head. "This one," he says, pointing to the white, "is Secrets. And that one," he gestures to the gold, "is Mystery."
"Now," the dog continues, turning to his two customers while Jaym holds the animals, "Which of you'll ride which?"
"Mystery!" Envoy bounces, and goes to pet the golden-feathered Drokar.
Elise responds to the dog's question not with words, but by her action. She walks right over to the gleaming white winged Drokar and reaches hesitantly to touch it, as if uncertain it was really there.
Secrets shies from the poodle's touch, making a soft clicking noise deep in her throat, then reaches out her nose towards Elise's hand, bumping the tip solidly against her fingers. Mystery greets her young rider with a friendly whicker and a nudge at her head. "Need a hand up, little lady?" the Shepherd asks.
Envoy nods to the Shepherd, "Yes please! They'll fly us further up the mountain, won't they?"
"If that's where you want to go, li'l lady," the shepherd says, bending to lift the Aeolun easily with both hands. "Put your foot in the stirrup, there, and we'll boost you over," he tells her, holding her by the Drokar, which snakes its head about to nibble curiously at the little Aeolun's horn.
Giggling at the nibbles, Envoy gets her feet into the stirrups and settles into the saddle. "I've never ridden a Drokar before."
The white poodle almost seems to blend in with the equally white winged Drokar. She carefully runs her hand up its nose, then to rub Secret's long muzzle affectionately. She smiles all the more brightly for the experience.
The white animal looks hesitant about the contact, feet shuffling and the feathers on its neck bristling, then it settles down, leaning into the caress. "They're good beasts," the shepherd tells Envoy. "Keep your knees snug about the ribcage but don't dig in, and keep your hands on the reins but don't yank back, and you'll be fine. You need a boost, ma'am?" he asks Elise.
Envoy holds onto the reins as instructed. "Do they respond like Dromodons do?"
"Lots more sensitive than Dromodons, miss," the canine answers. "Lots more. Go easy on 'em, don't be yanking their head around or gouging their sides."
Stirred from her petting of the winged Drokar Secrets, Elise looks over at the man questioningly for the moment. "Oh! No, I will be able to manage on my own, thank you." She smiles at him, then even more so at Secrets, and with more energy than she's shown since the dream began walks around and proceeds to get a foothold and climb onto the saddle.
Secrets stands perfectly still while the poodle ascends to her back. The animal flops her bound wings around Elise's calves once the canine is settled onto her back. As the pair stands mounted, the German Shepherd turns first to one, then the other, watching their posture. "Now, you both ready? Do you know where you're going?"
"We're going to see Inala!" Envoy announces.
"Both of you?" The dog sounds surprised.
"To the top of the mountain, to meet with the goddess Inala," says the poodle, much like a general might announce an order. "Yes, we will both go. I am certain she is expecting us." She runs her hands though the feathers of Secrets head and prepares to get going.
"Is there some reason we both can't go?" Envoy asks, smiling.
"Only one of you will make it." The dog's mouth moves as they hear the words, but the speech sounds both muffled and doubled, as if two were speaking at once, and both of them strong, but from a long way off.
Secrets whickers, nervously, and prances, while Mystery tosses her head and paws once at the ground, her eyes bright and eager.
Envoy asks, "Why is that? Can she only see one person at a time? Is there something we failed to do first?"
The German Shepherd looks at Envoy, his eyes tinged with a deep pity, but he does not respond to her query. Instead, he asks again, "Do you know where you're going?"
Envoy blinks, and looks uncertain. "I have to see Inala, it's the only way to help my friend."
After casting the other Gallee a look, Elise turns her head to face Envoy. "If something should happen that I am unable to join you at the palace, I want you to proceed to meet with Inala. Do your best, I have faith you will succeed. Now … " she gathers the reins and casts another glance between the Aeolun and the other Gallee, " … are you ready?"
Envoy cheers up a bit as Elise takes charge, and looks to see how the wing-restraints need to be released.
At Elise's words, the dog looks to Envoy, and then nods to the groom holding the mounts. The other man works swiftly to unclasp the bindings on Mystery, while the Shepherd attends to Secrets. Mystery, freed, tilts back her head to give an unearthly scream of delight. She paws at the ground and unfolds her wings, the groom shying away as she beats them, two sharp, powerful strokes. Secrets shies away from the other Drokar, as the Shepherd snatches the last leather band free of her wings. The white Drokar sidesteps several paces and whickers anxiously.
Envoy spreads her own wings as well! "Hiyee! Let's go find Inala, Mystery!"
Elise pats her mount, urging it forward in a gallop along the ground. "Forward Secrets, and into the sky!" she calls out, lowering herself against the winged Drokar as she expects it to gain speed for take off.
Mystery screams again, her cry ringing through the pasture, then she charges forward at a full gallop down the main road. As she draws close to the arch, she spreads her wings wide, and gathers her legs for a powerful leap that carries her easily over it.
Echoing the cry (albeit with less volume), Envoy tries to guide the golden Drokar towards the summit.
The white Drokar, less sure of himself than the gold, draws some comfort from his rider's pats, and at her insistence, gathers himself first into a canter, then a gallop after the gold. With a light, effortless bound, he joins her in the air, whickering gently.
Mystery needs no encouragement to head for the mountain's peak. She snakes her head low and flat while her legs curls close to her chest, wings stroking the air rhythmically as she flies with fierce determination towards the summit.
"Now this is a ride I can truly appreciate," calls out Elise to Envoy. Finding herself in control and flying at a much easier pace, the noblewoman seems more confident and relaxed. She smiles off towards the Aeolun as she directs her mount towards the summit.
Envoy, for her part, let's her mount have its head, happy to share the experience with Mystery.
Secrets shies back from following the gold Drokar too closely. He contents himself with following in her wake, at a slight angle away from her, his own head held upright and his legs stroking at the air with the same rhythm as his wings, a light, easy canter that only gradually increases in acceleration
Finding her mount with a less than enthusiastic ascension Elise leans forward and rubs Secret's head encouragingly. "Come now, no need to be shy. We cannot very well be left behind," she tells him.
The Aeolun leans forward against Mystery's saddle, and runs her fingers into the feathers above the powerful shoulders, so that she can feel the muscles work the wings.
While Mystery easily outdistances her companion in her headlong flight, Secrets cants back his ears to listen to his rider. His long, loping strides and easy beats mask a hidden power, and after several minutes where the gap between the two only widened, it begins to narrow again, as the white Drokar covers the distance in the air with an ease that contrasts sharply with Mystery's raw power and effort, her muscles pulling and laboring beneath Envoy's touch.
Pleased, the white Gallee strokes her winged Drokar in appreciation. "Very good! Yes, that is the way!" says the poodle to Secrets.
The snowy Drokar preens beneath the poodle's touch, and his long legs stretch further, the flap of his wings sure and swift, devouring the sky as he draws towards Mystery's heels.
"I think I should ask the goddess for your freedom," Envoy whispers to Mystery. "So you can soar like the sun all you want."
Mystery's ears cant at Envoy's words, and her rider can feel a rumble deep in her throat. As she senses the white Drokar drawing up, she suddenly curls her body about and snakes her head back to nip viciously at the other Drokar's head.
Envoy blinks in alarm. "Wha- You don't have to attack Secrets!"
The smooth rhythm of both Drokars is thrown off at the abrupt attack, as Secrets shies from the blow, floundering backwards and whickering while he allows Mystery to resume the lead.
"Were you on Rephidim, you would surely be the prize of all the city. The glorious white winged Drokar, magnificence unmatched in all th- … " She pauses as the golden Drokar snaps at her pearly mount, and the noblewoman glares at the ornery Drokar. The poodle strokes her mount all the more, quickly trying to counter the attack with careful affection and motivational words. " … in all the planets. You would be lauded with praise by all the known worlds, and the pride of and jealousy of the highest of nobility."
The Aeolun looks back over her shoulder to see if things are okay. She doubts she can control Mystery, if the Drokar decides to attack again, and begins to worry.
Anxious whickers calm as the poodle continues her soothing speech. Secrets keeps his ears swiveled towards his rider, while his eyes remain fixed on Mystery as she moves farther from him. The gap grows to several yards with the white Drokar's wingbeats only slowing, and then he starts to descend.
"Elise, are you okay?" Envoy calls back to the descending poodle.
"I am losing altitude rapidly, Envoy," replies the poodle in a yell. "Do you think you can abandon your mount and fly down to me? They said only one would arrive, but if we are both on this one, perhaps we will both arrive. Plus you cannot control your Drokar! That is very dangerous!" While calling out, she pats her own mount all the more, trying to spur it into catching up again.
Slipping her feet out of the stirrups, Envoy prepares to abandon her mount. "I have to go, Mystery. I suppose you can go wherever you want now, and thank you for the ride!" The Aeolun's wings fan out, catching the air as she lets go.
Mystery blinks and falters in her stride, as she feels Envoy pull away from her. The Drokar twists her head to look at her erstwhile rider, a confused, mourning keen emerging from her throat as she watches Envoy say her farewells.
Envoy waves to the golden Drokar! "I'm sorry, but I need to stay with my friend!" She begins her descent, looking for Secrets and Elise.
As the Aeolun drops away from her, Mystery's wing beats still, and she falls behind the other flier as her eyes remain fixed on Envoy. Slowly, her lips pull back from her teeth, and her eyes narrow into slits, then with a powerful stroke of her wings she sweeps forward, teeth bared and her hooves together in a wedge aimed at Envoy's back.