In a world of magic, where spells can alter reality itself, it is remarkable that faith burns strong in every aspect of society. It is as if the growing knowledge of man only enhances faith.
— Surrendering to the Holy Father
Linsan sat on the end of Maril's wagon with one arm over the back and her knees up near her chest. She stared aimlessly across the houses and farms that surrounded New Brunil as they grew more sparse and scattered.
Maril cleared her throat. “You've been in a sour mood since you returned. I was praying that you'd find something to give you hope.”
The memory of the fight rose up. With the bitterness of Brook running away was tempered by the rush of using her magic in a fight. It felt good. She smile bitterly. “I found something, just not what I thought I'd fine.”
Maril chuckled. “That's the Couple for you. They give you want you need though it is rarely what you want. Reminds me of when I was younger. There was a young boy named Gastor. He was so handsome and I loved watching him play Clashball.”
She sighed wistfully and transferred the reins to one hand to twist around to look at Linsan. “I thought I was going to marry him and he was going to lead his team up to the national ranks.”
Linsan smiled. It was a new story that Maril hadn't told before.
“I was even prepared to tell my parents that I was going to marry him.”
The old woman shrugged. “The spring was warm and I got a crop of strawberries three weeks early.”
Linsan frowned. “What? I don't understand.”
“The Couple provides. I decided to share a bushel with Gastor. So I made up a picnic and headed out to his house.”
Linsan thought about all the plays her mother had been. She chuckled. “He was cheating on you?”
“What? No!” Maril shook her head. “No, I found out he was Lutian.” Lutian was an offshoot religion from the Divine Couple. Linsan didn't know much about it other than it didn't have a Blessed Mother and only focused on the Holy Father as the sole protector and guide of humanity. Her mother didn't care for followers of Lutian, except when she had a play a role that required faith. Her father cared only for their music, must like any other melody that played near his ears.
Linsan laughed. “I didn't see that twist.”
“Neither did I, but my mother didn't raise a girl who didn't believe in the Couple.” Maril sat back in her bench. “So I married Tilain and I've been content ever since.”
There wasn't anything Linsan could respond to. She turned back to watch the surrounding landscape as it passed but this time there was a smile on her lips. She tapped on the side of the wagon as she let her thoughts drift through memories drift through the fight and try to puzzle out how to be better. That is, if she ever found herself defending herself with Brook again.
As if the gods were listening, she heard a roar of an engine. She hadn't heard a car along the road in days and a sense of foreboding rose as it grew louder with every passing second.
Maril sighed and clicked her tongue to move closer to the side of the road. “Another driver. One of these days, they are going to learn not to run so loud they spook the horses.”
“Yeah,” Linsan said as she peered down the road.
A cloud of dust grew larger as the vehicle approached. She knew the engine was a steam engine by the steady thumping of the pistons driving the wheels. She expected to see steam rising up among the dust but there was nothing.
Then she spotted it. It was a pink buggy with thick tires that were easily five feet tall. Even from a distance, she could see the pistons driving the wheels. With the small body of the vehicle, it looked like some sort of comical insect racing toward them.
Linsan stared at it, trying to see if it was Brook behind the windshield.
The car overtook them and blew past with a roar of the engines. Linsan snapped her head to peer at the driver just as Brook glanced her way.
It was almost impossible to tell with the thick goggles over Brook's face, but the blue dress and matching leather gloves were unmistakable. Brook wasn't wearing her customary hat, but instead had her curly hair pulled back into a tail.
Then the vehicle was gone.
Maril muttered something under her breath. It was as close as the old woman would come to swearing.
A high-pitched screech filled the air.
Linsan spun around on her seat to see the buggy fishtailing on the road. The thick wheels gripped the dirt easily but even then one wheel lifted off the ground before the car came to a shuddering halt blocking the road.
Maril yanked on the reins. “Stop!”
The horse stopped faster than the car but the wagon twisted violently. Heavy canvas bags bounced on her side, almost crushing her and her violin.
Linsan had to grab the wagon to keep from sliding. She yanked the violin out of the way and took the blow to her hips. The impact stung and she let out a little cry.
A door slammed shut and Brook came storming around the far side of the vehicle. Her boots thudded against the ground as she came up to the wagon. “What in the Couple's worst day is wrong with you!?”
Maril leaned toward Brook. “Are you—?”
“No! I'm talking to the pile of shit in the back!” Brook's scream was painfully loud. She slapped the side of the wagon. “Answer me! Why are you here!? What is wrong with you!?”
Linsan scrambled around to face Brook. She lifted herself up to her knees. “I'm trying to help.”
“Everything you do is shit! You and your family are nothing but a curse! A Couple-damned pox on everything holy!”
“Blasphemy!” snapped Maril.
Brook turned on her. “Shut up, old woman!”
Maril's mouth opened in surprise. It quickly twisted in a scowl.
Slapping the side of the wagon again, Brook spun back on Linsan. “And you! You aren't supposed to be here. You weren't suppose to be at that damn garage.”
“I'm trying to help!”
“No, you are trying to find that piece of crap violin you are obsessed about!”
“And the men who killed your father!” Linsan's eyes burned with tears. “I'm going after them too. This isn't about—”
“I don't want your Couple-damned help—”
Maril held up her hand. “Stop blaspheming!”
Brook gave her only a half-second glare before returning to Linsan. She held up her fist, the blue glove creaking. “Go away! I don't want to see you ever again! Do you hear me!? Find a rock to hide under, that's all you Sterligs are good for. Nothing but shit-covered, curses of the Holy—”
Maril reached over and grabbed Brook's outstretched wrist. She yanked hard. When Brook turned, Maril slapped her with her other hand.
The goggles flew off her head and fell back to tangle in her hair.
Maril leaned down while she pulled Brook closer. “You can have your disagreements all you want,” she said in a terrifying calm voice, “but if you insult the Couple one more time, I'm going to get down and spank your ass like a petulant little brat.”
Brook shook as she glared at Maril.
Linsan stared in shock, her gaze moving from Maril to Brook and back again.
Grinding her teeth together, Brook yanked her hand free. She stepped back out of range of Maril and pointed at Linsan. “I'm going to find my Daddy's killers without you. Just stay out of my way. You hear me? Stay away!”
She turned and stomped away.
Maril sat back down on her bench. She sighed and then began to whisper a prayer. “Forgive me, my parents for I have…”
Linsan listened with only half an ear as she watched Brook get into her car. The grills on the side flared up as the fire rune inside was exposed to the boiler. The wheels turned a few times, then the car slowly straightened itself and pulled away. It was slow but accelerated steadily but before she knew it, the pink buggy was racing down the street.
Maril finished her prayer but made no effort to grab the reins.
Linsan shook and sat down hard. Tears ran down her cheeks. “I just wanted to help.”
“I know, Love.”
The sound of Brook's car faded away.
Linsan shook her head. She exhaled hard. “W-We should get going.”
The wagon didn't move.
The old woman turned and there was a sad smile on her face. “I'm going to miss you.”
“W-What? I didn't mean to upset you.”
“No, but this is where we are parting ways.”
Linsan looked around at the empty road. She thought they would have separated in a town or city, not on the side. It was fitting though, that is how they started traveling together. She shook her head and closed her eyes tightly. “I'm sorry.”
Maril beckoned for her. “Come on, wait on the bench with me.”
Confused, Linsan looked up.
“Your friend will be back.” All the anger and annoyance had faded away from Maril's face. She was once again the kind and cheerful woman that Linsan had been traveling with for days.
“We prayed and the Couple has answered. Come on, she'll be back soon.”
Linsan gathered her pack and case and crawled up to the bench. “I don't know. Brook is pretty stubborn. She and I have been fighting for years, ever since… the fire. Why do you think she'll be back.”
The road ahead of them was empty and quiet. No hint of the buggy or the driver.
“I have faith.”
Minutes passed by.
“She'll figure it out,” Maril said.
Linsan squirmed uncomfortable. She thought about what she would say if Brook did come back. Would she gloat? Or fight? Would it just end up being another screaming fight? She shook her head.
Time continued to pass painfully slow. She listened to the birds call out as the sun crept toward the horizon.
Finally, Maril sighed. “I guess I was wrong. I could have sworn that the Mother and Father had given you exactly what you needed: someone who was looking for the same—”
There was a faint roar of an engine.
“—thing as you. Someone who…”
The sound grew louder. Ahead of them, dust boiled around the pink buggy as it raced back.
Maril chuckled. “Thank the Couple,” she whispered.
Linsan shoo her head in amusement. She didn't think Maril was right but she was proven wrong.
Maril turned to her. “Friends fight all the time.”
“She isn't a friend.”
Maril responded by taking Linsan's hands. “Friends fight. They argue and they snip. But this is where you need to go. Just… let it go and trust the Couple. They will find both the killers and this instrument of yours before you know it. I have faith.”
“T-Thank you.” Linsan reached over and kissed Maril's cheek.
Brook's car reached them. The sound of the brakes squealed as she slammed on them. Then the car swung around on the dirt road, blowing past them as it spun until it was facing the same direction. With a rattle of pistons and the groan of steam pressure, it pulled up and came to a hissing stop.
Brook, her cheeks wet with tears, leaned over the passenger seat and stared out the window.
Linsan clutched the wagon and stared back. She didn't know what to say but she knew that the first words couldn't get out of her mouth.
Brook said nothing. Her jaw tightened as her eyes shimmered.
Uncomfortable, Linsan felt her body growing more tense with every passing second. Her mind spun furiously as her desire to be with Brook warred with their past.
Finally, Brook sighed. “Please?”
All the speeches faded. The only thing Linsan could do was slip off the wagon and get into Brook's buggy. She put her pack and case on a narrow back bench before slipping into the passenger seat. Even the first touch, the soft leather underneath her sore rear, told her that being in the buggy would be a completely different ride than the wagon. She decided it was scarier. She glance at Brook.
Brook stared straight ahead. Her jaw worked for a moment. She used one hand to wipe the tears from her face before she grabbed the steering wheel with her gloves. The blue leather creaked.
Linsan cringed but she settled into the seat. The smell of perfume and sweets filled the air. She looked down to see that Brook had a tray of sugared treats on top of a stack of papers. There were maps and notes jammed up against the driver's seat. A cup of something steaming rested inside a wire cradle near the center.
“Door,” Brook said in a strained, cracked voice.
“Oh, sorry.” Linsan blushed and closed the door. She waved to Maril who waved back.
“Blessed journey!” called out the older woman. “I'll pray for both of you!”
Brook slammed on the accelerator. Grills flared on the side of the buggy as a blast of heat poured out from underneath the engines. Steam hissed loudly as the car lurched forward. The pistons creaked twice and then began to force the wheels to turn.
In the first seconds, it was only loud and hot inside the cabin. Then a steady force pushed Linsan back as the vehicle accelerated. The pressure increased dramatically and she sank back. Frightened and startled, she gripped the handle of the door as the car shot forward.