VII. All Aboard!
Rose opened her eyes to the light of dawn and instantly shut them again. She never wanted to open her eyes again. She never wanted to leave this bed again.
Up girl. You're wasting daylight. The words of her father rang through her head.
"I know, I know," she said to the voice and rolled off the bed. She found the bathroom stocked with toothbrushes, toothpaste, and shower accessories; it felt wonderful to use them.
Grim was still asleep, snoring loudly, when she was cleaned and dressed back into her plain brown dress. Van had purchased some other clothes, but they didn't fit her right. She preferred her dress. She shook Grim's shoulder and tried to rouse him. "I don't want pancakes..." he groaned in dreamy protest.
Rose rolled her eyes and sighed. "Get up, Grim. We have a long day ahead of us."
Grim growled and opened an eyelid. "What do you mean? The train doesn't leave till this afternoon."
"I know. I want to go around town a little more before we leave."
"Van left us some money so I'd like to go to the market and I'd like to talk to a few more people."
Grim shot upright. "No! I don't want to do that again!"
"Sorry, but we have to."
"Why? We did yesterday and nobody knows anything."
"There are more people I'd like to try. Somebody has to know something."
"Why don't you just ask the police what they know? This is their job."
"Because then they'll start asking their own questions that I don't want to answer."
"What do you mean? I thought the cops were the good guys."
"They are the good guys, but we're on a mission, Grim. We have to keep that mission a secret from everyone. Dad said so. If two kids start asking the police about a murder we're going to look suspicious. We can't be hindered."
"You didn't keep it from Van," Grim grumbled.
Rose whirled around with indignation. "I haven't told Van anything. All he knows is that we're going to New Yorkland and that he figured out on his own."
"No, he knows we were coming here to meet that guy that got killed. You didn't have to tell him why we needed to get to Bermshire. You told him because you think he's cute."
"I did not! That's not why I told him."
Grim's stern face broke into a grin. "So you do think he's cute."
Rose flushed red and threw a pillow at her brother. "Take a shower and get dressed. We need to eat breakfast and get out of here."
After Grim had bathed and dressed they went downstairs to a table. Howard Dunderbar made his way over with a skillet full of scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, and onions and a platter of waffles. "Here you are, kids," he said with a friendly smile. "Van thought this would be a fitting breakfast for you."
"Thank you," Rose said with a voracious glint in her eye. The food looked and smelled spectacular.
"And he went ahead and ordered you some food for the road. All paid for and ready to go." Howard chuckled. "Van said he was in your debt, but I didn't know he was in this deep."
"All I did was best him in battle. For everything he's done for us I'd say his debt is more than repaid. Actually, I would say we're indebted to him."
The kids ate their breakfast and bid Mr. Dunderbar goodbye, saying they would be back later for their things to board the train. Rose took the box with her and pondered whether or not to take her sword. She decided against it, but did slip a small dagger into her red, silk waistband. She took them to the same busy street they'd been to the day before. It was another warm, sunny day so people were milling about everywhere in cheerful moods. Rose marveled again at how clean the city was. With the sun lighting up the sky the streets themselves seemed to shine and the brick and wood that made up the building exploded with vibrant colors.
"So where are we going?" Grim asked.
"I don't really know yet."
"Then what are we doing out here? I could still be sleeping or eating."
"Eating?" Rose shot her brother an astonished look. "You just ate three platefuls of eggs - how are you still hungry?"
Grim shrugged. "I just am."
"You're like a bottomless pit, I swear."
"You like to fight, I like to eat."
Rose laughed. A rare occurence these days. She stepped to the curb and looked up and down the busy streets. She really had no idea where to start today. She talked to everyone she could think of yesterday and she hadn't gotten anywhere. No one seemed to know anything and she almost believed them. Could it really be pure coincidence that the man they were in town to meet had been murdered? Did it have nothing to do with Grim and herself or their quest?
Taking her brother by the arm she started walking North. Soon they came to Main St., the road they'd come into town on. This road was twice as busy as the one they'd just come off of, wagons sped by left and right and the sidewalk was choked with pedestrians. "Stay close to me," Rose said and waded into the crowd.
They walked East with the flow of traffic. "Excuse me, excuse me," Rose repeated over and over as she pushed through people. Some moved for her, but more shot her a dirty look and didn't budge.
"Where are we even going, Rose?" Grim asked.
"Back to The Lincoln Hotel."
"Why? You already talked to the guy there. Why can't we just go to the train station and wait for the train?"
"Because, Grim." She knew it wasn't a real answer, but hoped it would suffice. She couldn't really talk right now anyway with everyone around them.
"Well, while you're in there I'll be in Weezin's Wonders."
"No, you won't. You're staying with me."
"Argh!" Grim gritted her teeth and rolled his eyes. "I hate how you think you get to make all the decisions."
"I'm not having this discussion with you Grim. Not again."
"Because you know it's bogus."
Rose had had enough. She pulled her brother through the crowd and into an alley. There were no people here and it was much quieter. She spun Grim around to face her and stuck a finger in his face. "Listen, Grim, I'm not going to explain again why I'm in charge because you know just as well as I do that I was left in charge. That's why I make the rules and why I make the decisions. And right now it's my decision to go back to The Lincoln Hotel and talk to Mr. Tacker. I don't think he told us everything he knows yesterday."
"Why can't I go to Weezin's Wonders why you talk to him?"
"Because we have to stick together. Has it not hit you that the person we were coming to this town to see was assassinated? And he was assassinated for a reason. If whoever killed Lars Ungbar knew he was here in Bermshire to meet someone they're probably going to stay around long enough to find out who he was meeting and kill them too. He was killed for a reason and that reason is us."
"But it's been almost a week since he was killed," Grim argued. "Don't you think whoever was looking for us would have found us by now? And since they haven't found us don't you think they would've left town by now?"
"Maybe they have left," Rose said. "But assassins will wait weeks or even months to find their target and take it out. We could have already been found and now the killer is just waiting for the best time to kill us."
"Maybe they don't want us dead," Grim mused.
"Maybe," Rose said. "And that could be worse than death."
"Alright, fine. Let's go then. The sooner you talk to people the sooner we can get to the train station and get out of here."
"That's the spirit." Rose took her brother's hand and led him back to the entrance to the alley. Rose had just rounded the corner of the brick building and SMACKED right into an unexpected wall. "Oof!" she exclaimed as she stumbled back and fell to her butt.
"Hello again!" a friendly, tinny voice said. It wasn't a wall Rose had run into, but Earl, the city's robot guide.
"Earl!" Grim's face lit up at the sight of the metal man. "What are you doing here?"
"It is my primary function to travel the town and offer my services to the city's citizens."
"Hey, Rose, maybe Earl can help us."
"How could it help us?" Rose picked herself up off the sidewalk and eyed the clunky contraption scornfully.
"It's his job to give information. Maybe he knows what's going on."
"I doubt this thing knows anything about the murder. Let's go." Rose grabbed her brother's sleeve and started to pull him around Earl when the robot started speaking.
"Are you inquiring about the recent murder of Lars Ungbar?"
Grim pulled his arm free of Rose's grasp. "Yes. Do you know anything about it?"
The robot's innards whirred and clunked for a moment then a puff of steam poured from the spout sticking out its head. "Lars Ungbar, a businessman from New Yorkland, was murdered midday on Tuesday, June 4, in the Year of the Puma while sitting in the restaurant of The Lincoln Hotel. According to eyewitnesses around 12:46 PM the front window of the hotel was shattered inward as an arrow flew through the glass and struck Lars Ungbar in the chest. No one saw who did it. Inspectors Lumpkin and McCallum are currently investigating, but have no leads."
Grim turned to Rose smugly. "Doesn't know anything, huh? He just gave us more information then anyone else did yesterday."
"Yeah, yeah," Rose said. "Is there anything else you can tell us?" She was reluctant to ask this bucket of bolts any questions, but she needed information.
"What kind of information?" Earl asked.
Rose thought. "It'd be nice to see the arrow. There may be markings on it to indicate where it came from."
"You think the arrow's just going to say where it came from?" Grim scoffed.
"Dad told me there are still tribes that use arrows as their primary weapons and they usually make them a certain way or with certain markers."
"The arrow is being held in the Bermshire police station in Evidence Room 1203. It has been logged as case number 811518."
Rose was beginning to be quite impressed with Earl. "And how do we get to the police station?"
Earl rambled off the directions to the station. He described it as a large three story brick building standing toward the middle of the town. Earl said they would recognize it by the statue of a sword in shield erected in front of the front doors.
"Great. We know where it is. Too bad we can't just walk up to the police and ask to look at the arrow." Grim rolled his eyes.
"Yeah," Rose said. "Too bad." Her voice was distant, thoughtful.
"Even if we could we don't have time to do anything about it. We have a train to catch, remember?"
"We have a few hours before we have to head out for New Yorkland."
"Did you say you're taking the train to New Yorkland?" Earl chimed in.
"Uh...yeah," Rose said.
"You are aware that the departure time for the train to New Yorkland has been pushed forward?"
"What?!" Rose's eyes went wide. Could it be true? "When did that happen? When is it leaving?"
"The departure time was changed today at 8:13 a.m. and is set to leave at 12:00 noon."
"Noon? That's only half an hour away!" She grabbed Grim's hand and jerked him back in the direction they'd come.
"Thanks!" Grim called back to Earl.
"I can't believe they would do this," Rose said over and over. She'd practically dragged Grim back to The Gut Wagon and hauled him upstairs. "We gotta go. Gotta hurry."
"I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying!" Grim was throwing clothes into a suitcase while Rose packed the box and their food and made sure they had their tickets. She strapped her sword to her back.
"Are you ready?"
"I think so. Do you think Mr. Dunderbar would give us some snacks to take with us?"
"We don't have time to ask. Plus, Mr. Dunderbar has already done enough for us. We can buy snacks on the train."
"They sell snacks on the train?" Grim's excitement about riding a train just grew tenfold.
Two minutes later they were back on the streets heading south towards the Bermshire train station. Rose was practically jogging down the sidewalk, her long black hair bouncing back and forth wildly. Grim had to run to keep up with his older sister. "Hold…up…" he pleaded through gasping breaths.
"We're barely going to make it as it is." Rose adjusted the pack strapped over her shoulder and soldiered on.
They walked a few blocks before turning east bringing the train station into view. It was a long, yellow brick building with a red slate roof and stained glass windows. The huge clock above the wide arched entrance told Rose that their train would be departing in three minutes. She lowered her head and ran the rest of the way. To her relief the ticket counter had no line.
"We need to get on the train to New Yorkland," she breathelessly said to the young lady at the ticket counter.
The lady (Ms. Michelle according to her nametag) looked over her small oval glasses and flashed a friendly smile. "You just made it," she said. "Do you have your tickets?" Rose handed her the tickets. Once Ms. Michelle verified everything was in order she tore the tickets in half and handed Rose back the stubs. "I'll have some men load your luggage for you. The train platform is straight ahead and then to the left. Platform three." She pointed in the direction of the platform then waved a man over with a dolly cart. Rose and Grim placed their bags on the cart, but Rose hesitated before unstrapping the sheath from her back. It not only held her father's sword, but the box they were carrying to New Yorkland. She didn't want to let it out of her sight again.
"Do we have to load everything?" she asked Ms. Michelle. "Can this be considered carry-on baggage?"
"Everyone is allowed one carry-on bag so I don't see why not," Ms. Michelle said. "Just please keep the sword sheathed throughout the ride."
"Yes, ma'am," Rose said, relieved. "Of course. Thank you."
Ms. Michelle smiled again and Rose and Grim walked past the ticket counter toward their platform. "I bet you're excited to leave Bermshire," Rose said to her brother.
"Yeah," Grim answered.
"You're going to love New Yorkland. It's huge! It's the pinnacle of high culture and technology."
"Yeah," Grim mumbled again. "Good to…leave…Bermshire…"
Rose stopped and looked at Grim. "What's wrong with you? You sound disappointed that we're leaving."
"I don't know. I'm not disappointed. I'm just…I have a bad feeling."
"A bad feeling? About what?"
"I don't really know." Grim's eyes were distant and spacey. Like he was trying to grasp something that was hiding in the back of his mind.
"Well, your bad feeling will go away when we're on the train. Come on, it's going to be leaving."
Grim followed his sister through the wide hall and out onto the train platform. The train was in impressive sight. Each of the many cars was painted a bright fire engine red with gold trim and black roof. Steam from the engine roiled over the tops of the cars. Grim could see well-dressed ladies and gentlemen sitting in the train waiting to be carried across the far expanse of land to the nation's capital.
"Here's our car." Rose pointed ahead and jogged to the door. She was halfway in when she noticed Grim wasn't behind her. He was still standing at the entrance to the platform with the same faraway look in his eyes. "Grim!" she called. "Come on, the train's going to be leaving."
As is in response a man on the train yelled out "All aboard!"
"Grim! Let's go!"
Grim didn't move. Rose could feel the train start to rumble under her feet. It was going to pull away any second. With a low growl she stepped back off the train and ran up to her brother. "What are you doing? We have to go!"
Grim didn't budge. He only stared at the train in apparent horror. He was shaking head to toe.
"What's wrong?" Rose asked. "Why aren't you moving?"
"I…I don't want to go," Grim answered. "We can't go!"
"What?! Why not? Where is this coming from?"
"I don't know! We can't get on that train!" Tears streamed down Grim's cheeks. Rose had never seen him so scared. Not even in Lillian's cottage in the deep, dark woods being chased by goblins and a madwoman. "I don't want to get on that train! We can't get on that train!"
Rose grabbed him by the arm. "We have to get on that train, Grim. We have to get to New Yorkland."
"No!!!" Grim wrenched his arm free and bolted back the way they'd come.
"Grim!" Rose took a step forward then looked back. The train was slowly starting to pull away. With a roar of frustration she chased down her brother. "Get back here!" she shouted.
"We have to get away!" Grim shouted back. He was already past the ticket counter and out of the building and still running.
As fast as he was, Rose was faster. She caught up to him before he'd gone a block from the train station and grabbed him around the waist. "Stop! What are you doing?"
Grim twisted and fought against his sister's restraining arms. "No! Stop! We can't go! We have to run! We have to get away! Bad! Bad! Bad!" The boy was in hysterics.
"Calm down," Rose said. "Calm down. Why are you doing this?"
A sharp whistle blared through the air telling them they'd missed their train. Rose looked back and saw the train pull out of the station. "Great," she growled. "We missed the train. Are you happy now?" She let Grim go.
He was still breathing heavy and very frightened, but Grim had calmed down slightly. "We didn't want on that train." His voice was low, but sure of itself.
"Why not? You're not making any sense."
Grim's eyes left Rose's face and stared off into the distance behind her. Rose followed his gaze. She could see the train raising a hill before leaving the city. By now it was only a long red snake on the horizon. She turned back to her brother. "All our stuff was on that train," Rose said. "How do you plan we get to New Yorkland now?"
"Look!" Grim pointed a shaky finger back to the train.
Rose turned just in time to see the train's engine blow into a million pieces and a huge fireball billow in its wake. By the time the deafening roar of the explosion blasted her ears and sent her hair flying in tangles the rest of the cars exploded in succession.
They had to cover their faces from the waves of heat that rolled over them. When it had passed Rose stared at the decimated train in horrified confusion. They could've been in there if Grim hadn't stopped them. She turned to her brother whose own stare at the train was horrified, but not surprised. Almost as if he'd known this was going to happen. He looked up into her face. "I told you," he mumbled.