Chapter Eleven: Part 2 - Whispers in the Alley
The two girls danced around the small, dim bedroom dressed in their new dashing daywear. Never before had Samantha worn anything that fit her so perfectly. Almost as if the dress had been made especially for her.
Especially for me... The thought lingered in her mind, wonderful, yet troubling at the same time.
"'Ho could've possibly givin' these to us?" asked Bella, speaking Samantha's very thoughts.
Before Samantha could consider a response, three firm knocks sounded from the door, followed by a moments pause. The two girls exchanged confused glances.
"'Ello?" Bella called curiously.
The door opened abruptly, revealing the tall, stiff figure of Autofficer Greensong.
"The carriage awaits." he stated stiffly, "Follow me."
The girls nodded solemnly and ran to collect their bags. Samantha strapped the miserable mask to her face, inhaling fresh fumes of fog as she gathered her skirt and strode out the door after her father.
Samantha had never ridden in a carriage before. There were few things more astonishing to her than watching all of Evercity fly past her window while sitting in nearly-unbroken stillness. Though she had much to say to Bella about her first carriage ride, the two of them remained silent, staring at the perfect folds of their black skirts while attempting not to make eye contact with Autofficer Greensong.
The two girls sat next to one another on one side of the carriage while Joseph Greensong sat opposite them, staring coldly at each girl. Never had they ever felt as awkward and foolish as they did now under Greensong's gaze. Samantha's eyes would wander from her lap, to the window, to her hands, to the ceiling, and back to her lap in an unending cycle as the journey progressed. Both Samantha and Bella silently hoped the ride would be over very soon.
Autofficer Greensong, Samantha, and Bella stood before the dark, looming hotel as the carriage drove away into the night. The torturous ride had come to an end, leaving the three at the doorstep of Cogstone Castle, a hotel exclusively for autofficers and high class citizens.
Without a moments notice, Autofficer Greensong took hold of Samantha and Bella's small suitcases and marched through the front door of Cogstone Castle. The two girls exchanged perplexed, worried glances before hustling after him.
"Autofficer Greensong!" called the lady at the front desk after giving him the room key, "Do allow our bellhops to carry your luggage to the room."
Despite the offer, Jospeh Greensong led the two tweenagers up the stairs, pausing only to glare at the anxious bellhops shadowing him, sending the poor boys scrambling out of sight. Samantha's father abruptly dropped all three suitcases and unlocked their hotel room.
The room they entered was unlike anything Samantha had ever seen before. The walls were a cloudy white, hung with various sized portraits of the Emperor, Zaul, and other famed dignitaries. Below a large portrait of the Emperor was a lavish, white single bed beside which stood a coal-black bedside table and lamp. Across from the bed was a kitchenette, a small, black table, and white door.
Autofficer Greensong gathered the three suitcases and marched into the suite. There, he stiffly set his suitcase beside the single bed and led the two girls through the white door into the next room. This room, much like the other, sported cloudy white walls decorated with multi-sized portraits. In this room, a pair of twin beds stood equal to each other with a small white dresser between them. Beside one bed was a large window, promising a wonderful view of Rivet's County, Evercity come sunrise.
Samantha's father dropped the girl's suitcases between the twin beds and stiffly strode out of the room, shutting the door behind him. The two girls looked at each other for a moment before Bella broke the silence.
"Isn't'is excitin'?" she whispered, a grin cracking on her face.
Samantha nodded eagerly before beckoning her friend to the window.
"Look!" Samantha whispered excitedly through her mask.
What Samantha saw past the window was a thick drainage pipe which ended at the floor of an alleyway. The two exchanged excited grins, anticipating the same plan.
"We ought ta change out'o our dresses first," Bella suggested.
"Good idea," Samantha agreed in her mechanical voice.
The two girls changed into their normal attire and carefully opened the window. Samantha grinned at the street below, oh the things she and Bella might find in a cluttered alley! Samantha gripped the drainage pipe and swung out the window, securing her legs around the pipe before sliding to the ground. Once her feet hit the ground, strange voices met her ears. Voices very close to her, yet unseen.
"Oh Eddie 'as a story for ya, don't be a fearin'." a man whispered affirmatively, "'E's got quite a yarn tonigh'."
"It'i real?" asked a little boy excitedly.
"Shhh! Don't wantta' 'otel folks 'earin us tonigh'." hissed an older, second boy.
The man, who's name Samantha assumed as Eddie, or Edward, chuckled softly, "It be as real as we three sittin' 'ere 'neath the stars!" he whispered, "Folks pass these tales ta' 'hoever cares ta' listin. Some'er ole, some 'appen three weeks past, but I 'as faith all o' 'em are true."
"Oh dear, shou' we climb back up?" Bella whispered to Samantha after sliding down the drainpipe herself.
Samantha shook her head,
"Not yet," she whispered in response.
"Outside this very Ev'rcity," Eddie whispered to the boys, "a chap out wandr'in's bound to find 'imself lost in'a mysterious mist. Once 'e 'as a chance to see again, 'e'll find 'imself in a village sort o' a thing made'a carved stone. The folks livin' there call themselves the Aethamancers."
"Wot kinda folks are they?" asked the younger boy.
"Shh!" hissed the elder.
"These be the sort 'avin' earth-brown skin and snow-white 'air," Eddie continued, "Few folk 'ave seen 'em plain in the face, but the ones that 'ave tell me their kind's got purple eyes."
"Are they dangerous?" whispered the younger boy intently.
"I'm sure they could be if chosen!" whispered Eddie, "but they don't 'urt us. Nah, they sneak about all quiet-like in the night, killin' off autos and breakin' down fog boilers. Few'a 'em stop ta chat if called on, the ones that do 'ardly say a word."
There was soft shuffling before Eddie continued. "A lady o' there kind 'angs 'round these parts. Ne'er spoke a word, nor 'eaved a sigh. If gettin' close enough to 'er, they say 'er breath don't make a sound!"
"She sounds an awful lot like'a ghost ta me." whispered the elder boy.
"That be the very name she's known for 'mong the street folks 'ere." Eddie commented softly, "but that ain't all they say."
Samantha drew closer to the speaker, her greenish-blue eyes wide with anticipation.
"Ghost wasn't always one'r there kind. Truth is, she started out just as 'uman as the rest of us!"
All four listeners gasped silently. Eddie chuckled at the two boy's reaction before continuing, "Young Sarah Cogruin came inta this world with 'er voice too weak ta talk ta folks. 'Er parents were the finer sort, and their cheeks burned red ta call'er their own. That being, when Sarah was 'round age twelve, 'er good-for-nothin' folks turned 'er outta doors and left 'er to the alleys. "
Eddie paused for dramatic affect before finishing the story, "Well, afta a day er two o' street livin', young Sarah lost 'erself in that very mist and found the village o' 'mancers. No one knows for sure 'ow it 'appined, but days later, that same Sarah snuck back inta town with skin an' 'air of the 'mancers. Now, she controls the purple mist some folks call Aether with a flick'a 'er fingers!"
The story paused as the boys asked questions and presented their doubts. However, Samantha was no longer listening. For her mind was caught up in the tale of Sarah Cogruin, and a rising hope which sang two words again and again:
What if, what if, what if...