Chapter Three:

The rain was pounding the metal roof of the boxcar. It had only been sprinkling when the train had departed, but it was really pouring down as Britain settled into the boxcar.

Britain slumped back against the wall and watched the scenery through the open door of the boxcar and also through the constant sheet of rain.

Half of her wished that Max were there. He'd at least be making some stupid joke to make her feel better, and maybe the gray of the surrounding mountains wouldn't seem so melancholy. However, the other half of her knew that this was something she had to go through by herself. It was a spiritual journey as much as a physical one. After all, she had to trust her mother—her insane mother. She twirled a lock of her ebony hair as she reread her mother's letter.

"Leap of faith," she scoffed out loud as she refolded the letter and stuffed it back in her purse. "What an appropriate line."

Suddenly the formation of the rocks around her became recognizable. A strange sense of déjà vu came over her.

Then there was a vision, weaving itself before her eyes so vividly that it was almost as if she were watching a movie. There were two people standing there, in a boxcar, on a sunny day. One was a young man with black hair and different-colored eyes. There was a woman next to him, her belly sticking far out. She looked to be around eight months pregnant. Her face was familiar, but it was framed with curly brown locks instead of the gray that Britain had come to know. It was her mother and father that stood before her mind's eye.

"Now, you're sure this won't hurt the baby?" the woman asked, placing her hands on her stomach.

The man kissed her on the forehead.

"Don't worry," he assured her. "The baby will be fine. My father has installed the softest landing that has ever been installed there."

"And you're sure that this is absolutely, completely necessary?"

The man smiled gently at his wife.

"Our little Britain won't be able to rule if she isn't born in the country. It's a very strict rule, my love. No exceptions. Now, are you ready to jump? I feel the train slowing. When it stops completely, I'll take your hand and we'll jump together."

"Okay," her mother said nervously.

The train stopped so that their boxcar was in the middle of the bridge.

"Okay, honey. One…two…"

The vision vanished as quickly as it had come. Britain realized that the cars creaked as they came to a stop. Britain gazed through the rain at the huge chasm the bridge spanned. It reminded her of the grand canyon, except that this canyon didn't have rounded edges—instead, it was razor sharp.

Britain picked up the round black stone Max had handed her and held it in her palm. She tossed it over the edge and listened carefully, though she didn't hear it hit the bottom. Thunder cracked above her.

Britain searched around the boxcar and found a few pebbles in one corner. She scooped them up, crawled to the door, and tossed them down into the ravine. She stuck her head out the door and tried to listen, though the sound of the rain made it nearly impossible.

Suddenly, the train gave a huge jolt. Britain let out a strangled cry as she fell from the boxcar. She managed to catch hold of the bridge, but that left her fingers right in front of the wheels, which were slowly starting to turn.

"Please, God, let Minophyre exist!"

And Britain fell into the chasm waiting below.

.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

Consciousness found Britain slowly and painfully. As she blearily opened her eyes to some sort of obnoxious sound that she desperately wanted to stop, she realized everything in her line of vision was upside down.

Or, rather, that her head was hanging off the edge of something. Other than that and the annoying noise, she was quite comfortable.

Suddenly the noise reached a crescendo and the blast of sound turned into audible words.

"…just unacceptable! Do you really think you can just block the way? There are others waiting to use the entrance, and I really don't need any crashes to deal with right now, so get OFF!"

Quite instantly, there were a pair of grubby legs in front of Britain's upside-down vision. The green leggings covering them had a series of small holes, revealing to the unwilling observer the dirty peach-colored flesh beneath them. The boots adorning the feet looked as if they had seen their better days as well. Three grubby toes with long, yellowed nails stuck out the giant hole that looked as if it had been burned into the left boot.

Britain sat up groggily.

"Where am I?" she asked, rubbing her head and attempting to stand up, only then realizing that she was toward the bottom of a gigantic pile of wine red pillows.

"Acantha!" the aggravating voice called again, this time louder than before. "We've got another Accidental!"

Britain finally caught sight of the creature with the incredible voice. He was one of the strangest things she had ever seen before. He had an extremely large head atop a smallish grubby body. Britain mused that it was amazing he didn't tip over from being too top-heavy. The tunic he had pulled over the top of his leggings was filled with holes and stained with something that looked shockingly like blood. The belt around his waist was broken and tarnished, only held together by some type of twine. His face was creased with angry lines and his round, flat nose dominated his features. The tip of his pointed right ear was missing, and the left was pierced with an earring big enough to circle Britain's waist. He had three fingers and a thumb upon each hand, though the thumb and tip of the tiniest finger were missing from his right hand. As soon as she has raised herself from the pile, he pushed her along with his fully-intact hand. Britain did not want to think of what was getting on her due to that contact.

When they reached the surprisingly well-furnished control shack, he entered through the screen door and began pushing buttons on a switchboard. And people fell from the sky onto the same pile of pillows that she had been lying on only moments ago. Each person recovered in only a second or so, and most walked off in some direction over the green hills surrounding what she supposed to be a landing pad.

There were rocking chairs lined up outside the small shack, and Britain sat down in one of those to examine her surroundings more fully. The weather was bright and sunny, and the light fell onto the green hills in silky rays through the occasional cloud. As far as she could see, the beautiful system of hills and valleys never stopped. Looking up, she saw a spinning circle of black in the sky. As she observed, she realized that was the point from which the people fell.

Voices heightened her state of observation. She turned to see another creature standing next to the one operating the switchboard. This must have been the creature named Acantha. She was obviously female, and wasn't quite the odd mixture of parts as was the male. Her head was the same size, but her body wasn't as spindly as the male's, and therefore she didn't look as if she were about to tip over. As far as Britain could see, she was neither as unclean nor unfriendly as her male counterpart happened to be. She also had all her body parts, at least as far as Britain could see.

When Acantha saw her looking in on them, she lifted her skirts a bit, so as not to step on them, and walked out of the shack. She took the chair next to Britain, and Britain realized that she was taller than the male as well. While he came up to her armpits, Acantha came up to her chin.

They sat there in silence for a minute before Britain took the initiative.

"Where am I?" she asked for lack of a more elegant way to put it.

"This land is the great Kingdom of Minophyre. And you are, miss, a guest of our great land, a type of human we call an 'Accidental'. How did you come to be here?"

"I fell out of a train," Britain said, unable to believe what she was hearing. It was real. Her mother had not just been telling a story to make up for what was missing in her life. She was really, truly being honest.

However, that made Britain feel worse than she would have if her mother had been incorrect. If she was really telling the truth, then perhaps she was sane. Perhaps it wasn't necessary to have her mother institutionalized with no feasible means for being reintegrated into society at a later date. Perhaps it wasn't necessary for her mother to have died alone.

"Excuse me, miss," squeaked the creature, sounding indeed very apologetic. "I do not wish to disturb you from your reverie, but I must ask you if your name is Britain."

Britain was not quite sure how to respond to that. It was like a stranger offering candy to a starving three year old. The information she was seeking could be released by giving the right answer to the question at hand, but it could also lead her to unnecessary danger.

"How did you know?" she ended up asking, clasping her hands together to keep them from shaking with nervousness.

"You have nothing to fear from us, Miss Britain. We are simple trolls. We are loyal subjects of the King of this land and we wish you no harm. Why don't you come in for something to drink? I can get you to your father in a matter of hours."

Britain stood and was led by the female troll into the wooden shack.

"Get in contact with the king," she told the other creature. "Tell him his daughter has arrived."

.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

"So how did you know who I was?" Britain questioned the female troll as she poured a cup of steaming liquid into a chipped teacup and slid it in front of her. Britain stared down at it for a second before picking it up tenderly. The liquid inside was thin as water, but a blackish-green color. The smell was like that of an incredibly pungent tea.

"Well, your eyes, of course!" exclaimed the troll as she poured two more cups from the tarnished tea kettle. "And your hair."

"No one else has eyes like mine in this land? Nor hair like mine?"

"On the contrary. That is what distinguishes you as one of them."

Britain raised the cup to her mouth and let the liquid touch her lips. It wasn't too hot or too cold. In fact, if it was tea, it was the perfect temperature. She let a small sip of the liquid drift onto her tongue and was pleasantly surprised at the tangy but sweet taste of it.

"One of who?"

"My dear, it has been so long since you've been here that you've lost a feel for the place." At this, her eyebrows knitted together, creasing her forehead to such a degree that Britain wondered if it would ever come unstuck again. But after a second of thought, she let her pleasant countenance return. "You shall no longer feel so foreign after a run through the fields. Perhaps your father will take you, though he doesn't spend much time on the ground these days."

"What do you mean, 'time on the ground?'" Britain questioned, pondering how her father could spend time anywhere else.

"The royal living space floats, dear. It is steered around by the Captain of the Imperial Navy. It is a large ship, you see. And aboard it are most of your closest relations. Forgive me for not knowing much of the three Gendrik houses, but I may be able to explain a small amount of their current standings. As for history, though, I know little. However, there are three houses, the Gendrik houses, which are also known as the Noble or Royal Houses. You, your father, and your extended family all belong to the House of Saaldran, which is at the current time the Ruling House, the House that holds the crown. Now, members of the House of Saaldran are characterized by their black hair, green left eye, and blue right eye. It is very specifically passed down the bloodline. Am I making sense so far?"

"I thought you said you didn't know much!" Britain exclaimed kindly, rather shocked at the rapidity of the words shooting from the troll's mouth. She felt as if she should have been taking notes on all the new information she was gathering together.

The troll smiled shyly.

"May I go on?" she asked.

"Of course. Continue."

"The second of the houses, and the house that will rule after the House of Saaldran, is the House of Seraile, characterized by sun-blonde hair, a brown left eye, and a green right eye. After them is the House of Somay, with light brown hair, a blue left eye, and a dark brown right eye. And the cycle continues on and on. When one House is unable to produce an heir, the next house takes over. It is supposed to be diplomatic and very prestigious, but as of late, it has been a bit hectic. There have been many murders of high-ranking members of each house, the most recent of which was between Saaldran and Seraile, obviously over the crown, and I am most unhappy to report to you that your father's most trusted guardsman was recently arrested and frozen for it. Seraile is now looking for revenge. If you fall into their hands, it could be deadly. You are most fortunate to have met us first, loyal subjects of the House of Saaldran, instead of anyone showing disinclination to your High and Noble House."

Britain's head was buzzing, thoughts and questions coming now so fast that she could hardly distinguish between them. The most pressing one passed her lips before she could process the repercussions of it.

"But you have two eyes the same color. Why?"

A slight pink hue came to the troll's cheeks, but she smiled gently.

"Other than the Gendrik houses, there are lower houses, called the Hronde Houses. There are five of them, and I have no interest in going into them. They are tangled in an inseparable web, you see. Their purpose is simply to rule in the event that a proper King or Queen cannot be found in any of the Gendrik Houses. While the Gendrik Houses refuse to intermix socially or through marriage, their bloodlines are pure, and every person who belongs to one of those Houses is a pureblood of their House. However, in the Lower Houses, intermixing is encouraged, and many citizens belong to more than one house. I am proud to say that I am a pureblood member of the House of Lorran."

Britain stared into her large, shining brown eyes. She guessed that characterized a member of Acantha's House.

"However, my children with Gorak, the ill-tempered troll you met earlier, will be half-bloods, Lorran and Meku."

"You are married?"

"Yes, quite a long time now. We are expecting our first child soon now."

From where Britain sat, the troll didn't look pregnant. But then, she didn't know much about trolls, especially how they looked when they were expecting.

"You are quite finished with your tea, Miss Britain?" Acantha asked after a period of silence.

"Yes," Britain said with a start. She had been so deep in thought that she had forgotten exactly where she was, which was ironic due to the fact that exactly where she was obsessed her thoughts. Minophyre actually did exist.

"I shall leave you, now, Miss Britain. You seem to need some time for reflection. Make yourself at home. The King shall arrive shortly."

"Thank you," Britain replied kindly, hoping she hadn't offended the small creature by lapsing into thought and not taking the opportunity of exploring her company.

However, her small worries gave way to her bigger ones once again, and she sighed as she considered everything once more.

Her father was still alive. After the mourning and finally accepting her father's death, he was back. And on top of everything that brought on, she had just had tea with a troll. A troll! She pinched her arm, just to make sure she wasn't dreaming. Part of her wished she was, that she'd wake up and be enveloped by Max's arms once more. She instantly felt sick to her stomach. He would be so worried when he didn't find her at the train's next stop. She imagined his paintings losing their colors, becoming gray and numb with his devastation. She could not see him moving on. And if he did, if his paintings ever brightened again with the light of love, Britain would be emotionally destroyed. She wondered if there was a way to get Max to Minophyre. She missed him terribly already and wished he were there to offer his gentle, patient guidance. She resolved to ask her father about it when she met him. But at that moment, all she needed was sleep, and sleep she did.