The coach was finely built and modest, with a rugged-yet-reliable looking driver with the reins. The driver helped him hoist his bags into a secure position and after Florence climbed in Isaac pressed a silver Talent into his palm.
"Thanks mate." He said earnestly. "Shouldn't have packed so much, to be perfectly honest."
The driver just looked at the square coin and smiled, pulling his pipe out of his mouth and saying. "Oh it's no problem Master, eh?"
Isaac reached out his hand, "Master for not so much longer Muller, Isaac Muller."
The driver's smile had a few teeth that were fake and his nose was just a little too bent, but his brown beard and hair were cut neatly and his dark eyes were obviously friendly. "Boris Yalmek, Master Muller. If you or your lady friend ever need to ride around town or a place to be, check for me at the Roma Hotel downtown."
Isaac told Boris the Driver that he would keep it in mind before climbing aboard and coming to a rest on the seat. A thought occurred to him as the door shut, and he asked Florence, "How much is a Talent worth around here, anyway?"
Florence pursed her lips and put down her book for a moment, answering cautiously, "Coin or bill?"
"Does it matter?"
"Yes Grey, it does. They still use coins around here more than paper bills, so the locals are more likely to prefer those."
"Alright, point made. What's a coin Talent to their money?"
She resumed reading, confident in her answer. "Around eleven or twelve Ducats. Why do you ask?"
Isaac just shook his head and chuckled, "Nothing. Made a friend, that’s all."
The road that they followed was the Imperial Highway, or the Black Road, a well-paved black stone artery running the breadth of the entire Empire. The road traveled between the capital city, Godfall, and the previous capital cities of the provinces so far conquered. First began being built shortly after the first Sundering nearly three Eras ago, thousands of miles long and dutifully maintained while being wide enough to fit four carriages side-by-side, it's one of the wonders of the world. It was the most comfortable ride Isaac ever had, and he had never been a fan of the stagecoach. They usually get stuffy after a while. It was worse with Florence, oddly enough. Her breathing always reminded Isaac of a forge's bellows, surprising given her petite stature. He used to joke to her that her breath was so bad it was like smog, but in his private thoughts he wasn't sure. Was it his imagination? He couldn't deny what he felt for his old friend, but he thought he had gotten a rein on the more... passionate feelings about her. Then again he didn't think he'd have an attack just stepping off the train, but who was he to know?
Trains and pedestrians melted into grass-covered rocky hills as the coach's wheels rolled smoothly along the Black Road. As Isaac recalled from his brief preparation for life in the Duchy, this is what a majority of the region resembled. Sharp, jagged green-topped hills dividing valleys in which settlements thrived, with the numerous rivers which carved up the terrain serving as vital lines for communication, travel and trade. The entire province, Isaac thought. is just one big network of trenches. Apparently this was the only route through the Bodez Mountains and into the province, with the other being north through Lacual Virdra on a river boat. This thought just made Isaac feel like he was riding right into a prison. He saw a number of other coaches pass and weave around them as they grew closer to the city. Expensive ones, cheap ones, some laden down with luggage, others with nothing but their passengers. Isaac wondered how many fellow students were in those other coaches, wondering if they were alone or not. If they felt as alone as he did.
The familiar sounds of a city reached him long before the sights did. First was always the machines. Steam-powered generators and pistons, the hum and flicker of the streetlights, the heavy metal footfalls of Glamim. And, hidden under that, the occasional roar of an Automobile changing gears. He felt a grin on his face. Even in Magoviste, it seemed that the future was marching right through those mountains. Then came the sounds of the people, chattering in different tongues, rising to boil just below the sounds of the machines. And then they were passing through the outer 'skirt' of the city; a belt of market stalls and slum-housing with beggars and pariahs with people living in filth. He saw Lawbringers shaking people down for narcotics or stolen products, their navy-blue greatcoats and ushankas shielding them well in the chilly air. They beat down some with their musket stocks or blackjacks, convinced that with enough blood shed the truth would somehow flow out into the mud along with it.
A profound sadness fell across him and he slumped back away from the window. Apart from the Legion, only the Lawbringers were allowed to own and use firearms in Imperial territory. And they loved to use them. In Godfall it wasn't uncommon to see a criminal get a very in depth 'talking to' for making life difficult for a citizen. Because in Godfall, most of the Lawbringers were locals that would go on to patrol the very neighborhoods they grew up in. Here though Isaac only saw Imperials, dusky-skinned Orelsans and the occasional broad-backed Audmauen. No Magos officers, not so far at least. He stated the observation to Florence.
"Must be difficult," He said afterwards, drumming fingers on his messenger bag. "I'm sure that's not a great conversation opener for the Dean."
"Ethnic tension? I'm shocked you think so." Florence rolled her eyes at him. "This province was only recently Sundered, Isaac. Twenty-odd years ago, something like that. Legate Ivanova isn't convinced that the Magos aren't going to start a revolt, with the death of the Red Saint so fresh in their minds."
Now it was Isaac's turn to huff. Her voice grew less sure of the words she was speaking as they left her mouth. "You know as well as I do that that's bullshit, Red, come on. It's just a bloody power play, like everything else that tyrant does."
Florence's eyes went as wide around as her spectacles and she smacked him on the knee, hissing, "Isaac! I thought you'd stopped saying things like that."
"I know, you were wrong. Strange feeling huh?" He gave her a grin and raised an eyebrow. "And I didn't agree to stop going to my favorite coffee houses around town. There were enough interesting ideas being spoken about that I was satisfied."
Now that he was off that train and away from his attack and was back with Red, Isaac felt his old self returning. He didn't just sit in his coach seat, he lounged in it. He produced his pipe, a fancy little thing carved from whale bone he had purchased during his trip to Herot up north a few months before. Stuffing some sticky Blue Poppy from his snuffbox into the bowl and lighting it with a match, he began puffing away casually as he stretched his arms out. He let himself relax and began to turn the gears in his mind. With the last cobwebs of his nightmare dusted from his immediate thoughts, his own expanding cobwebs of ideas and plots began to weave fresh.