Ch.1 On the Brink - Part 1

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Oskar pulled his muddy upper body out from under the carriage. Grumbling angrily at having accepted the job of traveling mechanic for a pompous jerk, he squinted up at the aristocrat impatiently pacing about when something in the sky caught his attention.

"Can we get moving again? We don't have much time." The man glared at Oskar. "Don't just sit there in the muck with your mouth open like an idiot. Say something."

The driver tugged his goggles down and leaped off his perch. Dusting himself off, he noticed the two horses were moving back and forth uneasily. "What is it?" He looked up.

Pointing at the sky, Oskar shook his head back and forth. "Those aren't weather balloons."

The driver's skinny face went pale. "That looks like a ... like a war galleon but with two immense balloons."

"And those webbed wings, look at them catch the wind," Oskar said, wiping the sweat from his face and leaving a messy streak.

The aristocrat's gaze darted about, his hands trembling. "I thought we had more time." He punched Oskar in the shoulder. "Fix it. Fix it! We must get to Kar'm before those Skyfallers arrive."

Oskar smacked the man in the face and stepped back, glaring at him.

"How dare you? A man of your station—"

"Where I come from," Oskar interrupted and leaned forward with a scowl, "a man in a forest is no better than the man he is with."

A giant shadow fell over them as the Skyfallers sailed overhead.

"You are right, my apologies. I have urgent information that needs to get to Kar'm."

"What's so important about old ruins? There's nothing there," the driver said.

"Yeah. Are you that in love with history?" Oskar asked, folding his arms and chuckling. "Anyway, that axle is now even more broken, and I cannot fix it."

"You fixed it before."

"True, mister fancy jacket," Oskar said to the aristocrat. "But we were on the edge of a town. Here, what do you want me to do? The front wheels are on the verge of breaking, and the shock absorbers are bent. This thing is done. You had us going too fast, and you rented a carriage that was too cheap and too low to the ground." He shrugged. "Your problem. Now, I'd like to get paid and start heading home."

The aristocrat went to grab Oskar by his shirt collar, but Oskar smacked him away.

"He's right." The driver peeked underneath the carriage. "To make it worse, the back, left wheel has three broken spokes as well. It won't last another mile."

Running a trembling hand through his sweaty hair, the aristocrat glanced at them and then at the horses. "I'll take one of the horses then." He pulled out a knife from a hidden sheath in his waistcoat.

"Whoa," Oskar and the driver said in unison, putting up their hands quickly.

"Out of my way," The aristocrat forced both men back.

Something exploded in the distance, spooking the horses. They moved side to side and tugged at their bits.

"I'll just cut one free. I don't have time to untie it." The aristocrat rushed toward a horse and tripped. His knife brushed across the back of one of the horse's legs as he fell, and the horse kicked him in the head.

As blood splattered, the driver shook out his hands and turned away. "Gross."

Oskar looked down at their dead boss. "What an idiot. You calm the horses down and free them from this thing. I'm going to search the carriage cabin. I'm sure he had something." He grabbed the door and heaved his hefty self inside.

Starting with the curtains, Oskar ripped apart the cabin, throwing things out the door. "Do you want a red cloak?"

The driver frowned. "You mean like spies and couriers used to wear? Wouldn't that draw more attention to us? Everyone knows that after decades of being taught to ignore people in colored cloaks, we're supposed to report them. That era's over."

Oskar threw it out the door. "It is going to take people a long time to start seeing what they have been told since birth to ignore. Hey, there's a sealed letter. It's got some kind of duck pattern in the wax. Ah, feels thin. Too thin to have anything good." He tossed it out the door as well. "Oh, I found something."

"What?"

"Money. The best kind of something." Oskar climbed out of the cabin and whistled at the driver. "Catch." He threw the driver a heavy coin purse.

The driver looked down at his prize.

"That should be enough to get us home, eh?" Oskar said, slipping a wallet of paper money into his vest. He then picked up a pistol and tucked it into the back of his pants.

"Did you already take your share?"

"No, I trust you." He rolled his shoulders.

Two rapid explosions sounded in the distance.

The horses pulled against the reins, and the driver dropped the purse.

Oskar stared at the purse, his eyes narrowing. He glanced up at the driver and then back down at the purse.

The driver tried to calm the horses. "If we head back to town, someone will notice that we're missing our employer. They'll ask questions."

"If we go back about half a day's ride, there's a sign pointing another way back to Teuton. Probably take a little bit longer, but it'll be good. It should be safe." His eyes wouldn't leave the coin purse.

"Here, take this horse." The driver held out a set of reins. "I'll take the other."

Oskar clenched his teeth as he looked at the horses. "You're taking the better one?"

"Better one? They're the same."

Explosions started going off, one after the other, in the distance.

"What do you think is going on over there?"

"It doesn't sound like target practice." Oskar took the reins with one hand and put the other behind his back. "But the good news is that you do not need to worry about these things."

"Why's that?"

He shoved the pistol into the driver's chest and pulled the trigger. As one horse took off, with the driver dragging alongside, Oskar shushed the other one.

Picking up the coin purse, he noticed his boss again and dropped the pistol near the dead man's hand. "There. Now it looks like the driver tried to rob the rich guy, things went badly, and he shot you. Everything solved."

Oskar frowned at all the stuff he'd thrown out of the carriage. He shrugged. Doesn't matter, no one will care, he thought.

Mounting the horse, he saw the driver lying in the road ahead. "You were going to do the same to me. I know it because you offered me this horse. But you see, now I like this horse better. Funny thing, I never killed a man before. My old friends in Yarbo, they would have new respect for me." He held his chin high. "They might even invite me to join their establishment."

His expression darkened. "But then, my younger sister, Petra, she would find out. I can almost feel her judgment from here." He waved at the air, and then turned the horse around.

"Now, if you don't mind, I finally have the money to make them see me as the real businessman and inventor I am. No more being a mechanic or repairman."

The intensity of the bombing increased, and he looked over his shoulder in the direction of Kar'm. "Those idiots, wasting so much money. There's nothing at those old ruins."

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