Here’s another preview checking in on Lily as she prepares to leave Graylands and finds her first obstacle….
The city of Beacon was something of a border between the more populated and developed Northern Regions and the rest of Graylands. It served as the last stop for pilgrims heading into the frontier and the first glimpse of true civilization for travelers coming north. It was a vast collection of stone buildings and towers that stretched high into the air. It had been built in a hilly area, and parts of the city raised up and down, looming or sinking depending on where you were.
Like the other cities in the Northern Regions, Beacon was connected to the only working railroad. Although becoming more common for the rest of the world, travel by train in Graylands was limited to the far north between the more dense cities. Some talked of extending the railroads into the frontier, but no progress had been made.
The Beacon train station was calm this morning. The air was cool, but comfortable, and the sky was pink with a golden glow on the horizon. Most of the passengers kept to themselves as they waited for the train to arrive. It was scheduled to head northeast, stopping briefly in Lacon before continuing on to Gerritsen, which was the end of the line.
A woman walked up and down the station’s platform. She appeared to be in her early twenties, and her ash-gray hair went to her shoulders. Her pale skin was striking, as was her eager smile and sparkling crimson eyes. Her beaming presence had an effect on the people around her. Everyone she passed seemed to cheer up a bit. Children waved at her. Men and women smiled and nodded as she walked by.
Lily Blackthorn knew there was a reason for that beyond simple good cheer, but she didn’t care. She was too excited to stay still. She was happy and didn’t mind if she made other people around her happy. Today was the beginning of her new life.
The train arrived, gliding to a stop at the platform with a loud chugging noise. Steam whistled and sprayed everywhere, and Lily couldn’t help but feel awed by the great vehicle. Having spent most of her life wandering the Graylands frontier, she had felt intimidated when she first entered Beacon, and now she felt it all over again seeing the huge engine with smoke billowing from the top.
There was a great deal of commotion as passengers stepped off the train while others waited to board. Lily stood with her shoulder-bag—her only luggage—and felt her chest tighten. This was it, she thought. This was what she’d come here for—to leave Graylands and start a new life in one of the Two Empires. Civilization.
She’d been so excited that morning, but now reality was sinking in. Seeing the train in front of her, it was as though she at last could see the final threshold. Her knees felt weak, and her entire body trembled. Not for the first time, she questioned whether she was ready for this. The Two Empires were not Graylands. She wouldn’t be able to just disappear into the night if things went bad.
You can do this, she told herself. You’re in control. You’re always careful—you’ll just have to be more careful. It’ll be worth it.
She was standing in front of one of the cars. The usher, neatly dressed in his uniform, noticed her and stared for a moment. “Are you all right, Miss?”
She stared back, clutching the strap of her shoulder-bag. “I …” she stammered. “I … uh …”
You killed a dragon!
“Yes,” she said, clearing her throat. She approached the usher and handed him her ticket. “I’m just nervous is all.”
The usher took her ticket and smiled. “First time on a train?” he asked, reading it.
“Yes,” she replied. “First time leaving Graylands.”
He nodded and returned the ticket. “Well, good luck to you then. Hope you enjoy the ride.”
Lily cracked a shaky smile and stepped aboard. Once inside, she found a seat by a window and felt better. She was still nervous, but it was the good kind of nervous. The anticipating kind. She believed she was ready. She fed well the previous night, and that would keep her in good shape for the journey.
And she did kill a dragon. Despite what she was, despite only getting drawn into that mess by accident, she destroyed the monster and saved the lives of anyone who would’ve been caught in its path. That had to mean something. That had to prove she was better than what she was.
“Excuse me, Miss? Is this seat taken?”
The train moved with a sudden jump and picked up speed. Lily looked at the young man standing in the aisle. He wore a gray overcoat and had a boyish face with neatly groomed blonde hair and blue eyes behind thin spectacles.
She smiled and replied, “No. Go ahead.”
He thanked her and slid into the empty seat with the awkward movement of someone who wasn’t confident in his balance on the moving train. Once sitting, he glanced at her and gave a shy smile. “Horses, I can handle,” he said. “Trains though …”
“This is my first time on a train,” she said. She couldn’t contain her eagerness and added, “My first time in the North.”
“Really? Frontier girl, are you?”
“I’ve only been in Graylands for a few years,” he said. “Never traveled very far south. I suppose I’ll always be a city-boy at heart. But I’m sure I’ll come back, someday.”
She glanced out the window. The train moved northeast and allowed a view of the south, stretching for miles. Lily reflected on all the years she spent wandering with no home or place to call her own. She wasn’t sure which of the Two Empires she’d settle in. She’d have to find some kind of occupation. She liked children—maybe she could be a teacher or something like that? She’d always have to be careful, but she could handle it.
And maybe someday—just maybe—she could find someone. Someone special.
“I don’t think I’ll ever come back,” she said.
“Well,” she said. “Hopefully I won’t ever have to. Tell the truth, I’m a little nervous.”
He gave a warm, reassuring smile. “I’m sure you’ll be fine. Pretty girl like you …”
She’d been told she was pretty plenty of times by plenty of men—often because they had other intentions. But the earnest way he said it combined with her good mood, and she smiled and blushed.
He took off his coat, revealing a well-pressed black suit and a large, clean white vest. Upon seeing it, Lily’s mood soured. “You’re a White-Vest?”
“Yes,” he said. “I’m a Brother of the Faith. Brother Myers. But you may call me James if you’d like.”
She squirmed in her seat as he took from his leather handbag a small, but thick black book. Her body tensed, as if anticipating great pain, and she cursed her rotten luck.
“Are you okay? You look kind of ill.”
Lily could feel sweat forming on her brow. Seeing an opportunity, she said, “I just need some air.”
She stood up and slipped by him. He smiled and nodded as she passed. “I’ll save your seat.”
Stepping into the vestibule between cars, Lily admitted to herself he seemed like a nice and courteous young man. But she doubted he’d be as gracious had he known he was sharing seats with a demon.
If you haven’t already, check out the first volume of the Graylands saga:
The Ghost Princess
Graylands ©2016 by M. Walsh