Chapter 3 - Preceding Fame
Brigsonstrat is a fairly large city. Although it’s nowhere near the size or scope of Iniagusville, it is nevertheless home to several hundred thousand Wenapajans. The city is encircled by two-hundred and thirty-seven stream generators that provide power not only for Brigsonstrat, but for much of Wenapaj. Most working residents of the city are constantly keeping the generators running, though some do earn their livelihood by harvesting the crystallic that naturally forms around the generators.
There is a constant stream haze above the city. Even the best generator has a slight percentage of stream runoff, and that produced by the generators that surround the city creates enough of a haze to fry the circuits of the most shielded of floaters. It was just as well; the streets of the city are far too winding and narrow to allow much traffic.
I was told all of this in great detail by Terry as we approached the city.
“How did you learn all this?” I asked as we passed a floater rental garage just outside of town. “I thought you worked in the palace.”
“I did some training in Brigsonstrat before joining up with the Royal Guard.” Terry said. “There’s a small contingent of Royal Guards in town I used to run with; they’re always looking for recruits, and eventually one of them convinced me to join up. To be honest, I was needing something better than working on the generators anyway.”
“I can understand that. Breathing in too much stream can have unpleasant side effects.”
“How … oh, right. I forgot you were raised in Rimstak, sir.”
I shrugged. “Our house was well away from the worst of it, but we’d get a concentrated burst of it every now and then; even sealed up in our house, I’d get a little of it in me.”
“Well, I saw what happened to friends who were overexposed. Everyone was always careful, but ... well, I guess you know how temperamental stream energy can be. Did it … y’know, do anything to you, sir?”
“I had a few strange dreams from time to time, but that’s about it.”
“What about the whole Streamer thing? Could that have given you the ability?”
“No.” I said a little more firmly than I intended. I didn’t want to elaborate, so I let out a polite cough and asked, “So, any interesting sights to see in Brigsonstrat?”
“There’s the clock tower.” He said, pointing at the city. Sure enough, I could make out the tall form of an elegant clock tower rising high above the city.
Something about the tower seemed wrong. After squinting at it for a few moments, I realized that the time was wrong.
“Clock’s wrong.” I said, shielding my eyes from the suns as I double-checked.
“Huh?” He looked ahead for a few moments before nodding. “Oh, right; I forgot to mention. Brigsonstrat runs on the thirty-six hour day.”
“Something wrong with only twenty-eight hours in a day?” I asked curiously.
“It’s not that; the generators are purged every thirty-six hours. As this requires all the power hooked into the grid to be deactivated, everyone thought it best to simply sleep during that hour.”
“Huh. That’s strange.”
“Strange or not, nothing in the city is open during the last three hours of their day.” He paused for a moment before adding, “We’ll just have to hope we don’t reach town during its night phase.”
“We’ll be fine.” I told him.
The suns were high in the sky as we passed through the southern gate into town. I was a little surprised at just how tightly the buildings were crammed together. Economy of space, I suppose, but seeing so many houses literally wall-to-wall made me crave the wide open spaces of the Saybaro.
As Terry and I walked through the southern gate, I wondered how I was going to find Ronisgald McDonald among the throngs of people wandering the street. While not as crowded, the streets of Brigsonstrat were undoubtedly busier.
That turned out to be the least of my worries. As we continued down the street, everyone gradually stopped what they were doing to stare at me and Terry.
I flashed a smile and waved. “Good afternoon, friends.”
No one replied; they just kept staring at us until we finally stopped.
I stood there in silence for a few moments before looking myself over to see if something was wrong with my appearance, only to see my keikogi and hakama rippling gently in the wind. There was nothing behind me either;
“Uh, Terry?” I asked. “Is this normal?”
“I don’t think so.” Terry replied uncertainly.
A horrible idea occurred to me. I spun about, hand on Glint, ready to face whatever horror was apparently lurking behind us.
Nothing was there. When I turned back around, however, nothing was there either; other than Terry and myself, the street was completely deserted.
I scratched my head, surprised (and admittedly impressed) that all those people had disappeared so quickly and quietly. “What in Nocturnes is going on here?”
Needing answers, I approached the nearest house. Rapping smartly on the door, I called out, “Hello!”
“No one’s home!”
Narrowing my eyes, I asked, “Then to whom am I speaking?”
No one replied. Rolling my eyes, I said, “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Still no reply. Sighing, I asked Terry, “You lived here awhile. Is this just some weird local custom?”
“No, this is a first for me, sir.”
Whatever had happened, the entire town seemed to have locked itself down; no one was anywhere, and every house was shut tight. Even the windows were latched and covered.
There was nothing we could do, but continue moving. After five minutes, however, we had yet to see even a single person.
“This is downright unnerving.” I said, my voice sounding unnaturally loud in the empty street.
Terry nodded. “I agree, sir.”
A timid voice behind us asked, “Are you a demon?”
We turned and saw the speaker; a little fional girl in a plain dress. Her fingers toyed with the end of the long blonde pigtail that trailed between her floppy ears as she looked at us with unmasked curiosity. I couldn’t help but wonder if that was how Terra looked when she was a child.
Kneeling, I said, “No, I’m not a demon. I’m Jimmy Sakamota. My friend and I are knights and royal guards of Wenapaj. We came here on an important mission, and are in need of assistance.”
After regarding us both for a few moments, she moved toward Terry. After sttudying him for a few moments, she took his hand much to his discomfort.
“C’mon.” She said, tugging my armored friend’s arm. “We gotta see momma.”
I held a hand to stay Terry’s words. “We’d love to meet your mother, Miss. Lead the way.”
This seemed to satisfy the little girl. Terry reluctantly allowed himself to be led through the streets with me following behind. I spotted a few eyes peering at us from cracked windows and doors that were just slightly ajar.
Eventually the little girl led us to a nice, if a bit small, house. There was a small garden in the front lawn filled with yellow and white flowers, and an old tin mailbox hung open just past the gate, currently empty.
The little fional girl pulled Terry right up to the doorway before finally releasing his hand. When she knocked on the door, a frightened voice called out, “Go away!”
“Momma!” The little girl said, putting her hands on her hips and sticking her jaw out. “Momma, it’s me!”
There was no response, though I could hear a slight creak from the door. Someone was pressing against it from the inside.
Terry opened his mouth to say something, but I raised a hand to hold him off. “I think I’ve got an idea. You mind?”
“By all means, sir.”
“Thank you, Terry.” I stepped up to the door, cleared my throat and knocked sharply against the painted wood. “By the third bylaw of paragraph eighteen, section B12 of the official lawbooks of his Great and Wonderful Majesty, Iniagus the XXVII, I demand that you open this door or face arrest and seizure of your home.”
The woman inside let out a terrified squeak. The door creaked open, revealing a pretty woman with long, light brown hair. I was a bit surprised to see that she was Galden.
“I’m sorry, sir.” She said, her eyes downcast, “I didn’t mean ...”
The little girl pushed the door the rest of the way open, saying, “Mom, this is Mr. Sakamota. He’s a knight and a hero!”
The woman looked at me curiously, fear fading from her eyes. “Y-you are?”
“Specialist Sakamota at your service.” I showed her my armbands. “Just a possible hero, but I do have Iniagus’s support. This is my friend and fellow Royal Guardsman Terry Ul-”
“Ulyndia?” She said, looking at my armored friend with surprise. “You might have told me you were coming, Terry!”
“You’ve met?” I asked.
“Er, yes sir. During my last visit, sir. Jeane and I were good friends.”
“Are good friends.” Jeane said, a stern look on her face. “I thought you were going to stay in contact with me.”
“I’m sorry, Jeane.” Terry said, rubbing the back of his helmet. “Working for the Royal Guard has been a bit ... eclectic.”
“My fault.” I said, raising a hand. “There was a bit of a problem with a dragon.”
“Dragon?” The little fional girl said, perking up instantly at the mention of the legendary beast.
Jeane seemed surprised as well. “Oh! You’re Jimmy Sakamota? Traysia and I watched that movie a few days ago.”
“Movie?” I asked, but even as I said the words, I remembered my hectic race through the movie sets of Wukice. The last set had been a production of the very adventure I’d been having, with an ending thought up by Iniagus. His ending had me dead, but my improvisation led to the movie having a different ending.
“It’s been on the top of the charts for the last few weeks.” Terry said, a grin on his face. “I was played by Girspren Huxtable.”
“That’s nice.” Sighing, I said, “Could we come inside for a moment, ma’am? I hate to impose, but you and your daughter are the only person willing to speak with us.”
“Yes, I’d imagine so given your appearance.” Jeane said.
I frowned at her. “What?”
“Come inside, and I’ll explain.”
She ushered us inside a rather nice home. It was a bit on the small side, but I reasoned that after living at the Saybaro, most houses would no doubt seem small to me. What was important was that the home was well-cared for. The furniture was polished, if a bit worn, and hand-sewn pillows lay on the wooden chairs Jeane pulled out for us.
“Sorry about the strange welcome,” She said, setting a cup of tea out for everyone save the little girl, who got a glass of milk instead, “but a young man passed through this morning claiming he was being chased by a demon dressed in all black carrying a sword would soon visit the town. He scared up quite a crowd.”
“What?” Terry and I exclaimed simultaneously.
She nodded. “The description he gave matches you perfectly, and given that he seemed legitimately frightened, I’m sorry to say I believed him. After that ... well, word travels quickly in Brigsonstrat.” Terry said.
“So I see.” I said, rubbing my forehead. “Just a guess; the one who gave the warning ... he carried a rather large sword, right?”
“Why, yes he did! Nearly as large as him, it was!”
Terry and I exchanged looks at this.
“That little punk!” Terry growled. “I’m going to throttle him into pulp.”
I raised my hand to stop his outburst; after all, there was a little girl present. “I’m sure there’s good explanation for this.”
Traysia said, “I didn’t like him.”
“Traysia!” Jeane said sternly. “That isn’t very nice!”
“Well I didn’t!” Traysia said. “He was mean!”
“You have no idea.” I scratched my head; I wasn’t going to have much luck looking for Ronisgald McDonald if people ran at the very sight of me. “We are here on urgent business, Missus Jeane. Is there any way you can convince the the rest of the townsfolk that I’m not some kind of demon? Maybe spread a rumor that the other rumor was just rumor ... er, you know what I mean.”
Jeane considered my question for a long moment. “Rumors spread quickly here, but not that quickly. Perhaps ... perhaps a disguise is in order. My husband is fond of costumes, and you appear to be about his size ... though I have to warn you; his taste is a bit odd.”
“Odd in what way?” Terry asked.
I quickly raised my hand and said, “I appreciate any help you can give us.”