Juan Sevilla leaned forward on the deck rail of the ferry. He tried to peer around the horizon for any sign of land. Despite the morning mist that crept over the water like a bride's veil, he was able to make out the silhouettes of the white rock cliffs of the Bravatinian coast.
He turned his gaze down towards his suitcase to make sure that the briefcase that contained his entire life savings and other personal effects was still at his side.
A gust of cold wind caused him to pull his frock coat tighter. He wished that he had brought his woolen greatcoat with him, but that was probably still sitting on his bed back in New Trisos. Juan knew the northern kingdom would be colder than the tropical town he grew up in, but not this cold. But such was the cost when the harbor was an hour carriage ride and you overslept.
Juan let out a few brisk breaths, seeing a white cloud blow out of his lips caused him to tug at his coat. He failed to notice another passenger making his way towards him.
“So what brings you to this fair city? Travel or business?” The man asked and stood beside him as he admired the view. He had the sophisticated northern accent that made the young traveler want to stop what he was doing and listen to what he had to say.
Juan was briefly tongue-tied. Although he had studied Anglean, the primary language of Bravatinians in his university, though he hadn’t spoken it in years. “I am here for business.” He managed to say with some difficulty.
The northerner looked Juan up and down, then nodded silently. He felt a small sense of relief at the man's approval. It had taken him close to an hour to pick out his clothes. Although not suited for this chilly weather, his outfit was quite fashionable in the kingdom; a finely made coat, crisp black trousers with knee length boots and a top hat.
“What business would that be?” The man asked, pulling a cigar from a black mahogany cigar case with a symbol of an eagle. He lit it and placed it in his mouth. Like the other people of the north, he was paler compared to Juan’s brown skin and perhaps half a decade older than him with curious brown eyes and equally dark hair that was not hidden by any sort of hat. He wore a frock coat as well, albeit more suited for the weather with brown breeches and black boots that went up to his knees.
“I would like to make my fortune here working as a correspondent for a newspaper company,” Juan explained, adjusting the collar of his jacket as a stray gust blew it up.
The Bravatinian blew a ring of smoke and turned away from the deck rail to face Juan, “A newspaper correspondent you say? A growing need in this country true enough, but don’t you Pinowans prefer to try their luck in Madriales?”
Juan nodded again, seeing his point. Most of his people favored their colonial master, the southern neighbor of Bravatinian. But of course, he was not most people. “Aye, but they have not embraced the printing press the same way your country has.”
The northerner seemed surprised at Juan’s knowledge and for the second time was at a loss at how educated this southerner was. “Indeed it hasn't." He replied slowly as he pulled the cigar out and blew a puff of smoke. He offered his hand to Juan. "William. William Bowen.”
“Juan Sevilla.” The Pinowan replied, grasping his hand firmly and shook it. His grip was firm, yet there was none of that unnecessary squeezing. “So what brings you to Bravatinia?”
William beamed proudly, puffing his chest up and brushed his coattails aside to reveal the blade hanging from his hip. It wasn’t like the conventional short sword used by aristocrats. It was a long blade with a slight curve favored by the pirates and sailors. “I’m starting my trading company here.”
“Trading company?” Juan didn’t know why he was so surprised. It was no secret that Bravatinia boasted one of the largest overseas empires in all of the five northern kingdoms, with territories in every direction, and consequently the largest fleet of ships for both trade and warfare.
"Aye, a trading company." He grinned broadly and removed the spent cigar from his mouth. Without warning, he suddenly leaped on top of the deck rail.
Juan let out a surprised squeaked and took a step forward to try and get him down, but William seemed perfectly fine there and drew his sword, pointing forward like a pirate captain directing his crew of rogues. "To take ships to unknown and wild lands, bring rich and exotic goods."
"A fine dream." He nodded his head in agreement. Where he came from, no aspired of anything beyond being a farmer or fisherman. "The world is in need of dreamers."
William briefly narrows his eyes at Juan’s, scanning his face for any signs of mockery, but once it was clear that Juan meant what he said, a pleasant smile returned the pale man's face. “And to you Juan Sevilla.”
“Land Ho!” A sailor shouted from the crow's nest. As he said those words, the great port of Lennitz came to view. Its harbor stretched for three and a half miles and had enough room for two hundred ships. The lighthouse built atop the cliffside beside the port cut through the fog like a candle to darkness.
"Well I suppose I must be going now, it was a pleasure to meet you." He said and sheathed his saber, he leaped off the rail and disappeared into the crowds of passengers emerging from the lower decks. Almost all were Bravatinians, or from one of the other five paramount empires. The five northern countries that virtually ruled the rest of the world. Most of the people from the southern lands that Juan could find were either servant for the passengers or workers for the boat, though he did spot one or two men from Raayjali with their white turbans and fine suits who quickly collected their things and marched down with the rest of the passengers.
No one paid Juan any heed as he picked up his suitcase and stared at the port one last time from the deck rail. The ships moored were bunched closely together to form a forest of masts, from large bellied galleons, beautifully hand painted pleasure barges, small fishing boats that were hard pressed to hold ten people and sleek battleships bristling with iron cannons.
A gangplank was lowered by a crewman on the ship's port side. The captain had made an appearance and stood beside the gangway, smiling and greeting passengers. He was a portly man in a crisp red uniform.
Juan quickly found a place in the line that formed as passengers filed out. The skipper blinked in surprise when he saw Juan, but nonetheless offered him a polite smile and tipped his hat to him, a gesture the Pinowan returned.
He marched down the plank and breathed in the brisk, misty air. A troop of soldiers in their redcoats marched past him, their muskets
He waited for a horse-drawn carriage to appear from a nearby street before letting out a high pitched whistle. "Kalesa!" He shouted.
Those people beside him shot annoyance glances in his direction before turning with their noses in the air, the two Raayjali men snickered at each other. Juan flushed, wishing dearly that his coat had a hood so he may hide in it.
A few feet away, one of the servants standing behind a young woman in a beautiful white dress tapped her shoulder and pointed at me. She waved her hand dismissively and took her handbag from the servant's arms.
He quickly made his way to my side, dodging the piles of luggage rapidly forming on the ground as porters unloaded it. He was a Pinowan as well, about seventeen years old. The boy placed a sympathetic hand on Juan's shoulder. "Kuya, hindi ganyan ang pagtawag ng Kalesa dito." He said and waved his hand on the side of the road when a new carriage appeared. This time the driver pulled his horses to a complete stop in front of him.
"Salamat," Juan said to the young servant, wiping sweat from his palms. He smiled in return before running back to his lady.
The driver nodded towards me but didn't open the door for me. "Where to?"
“32 Barrington street,” Juan replied grunted as he lifted his suitcase up and placed it into the carriage before getting inside. The driver snapped the reins of his horse and spurred them into a trot.
As the coach made its way down the street, he glanced out the window and felt his breath leave his lips. The sprawling metropolis was magnificent,
He pushed his head out the carriage to get a better view. The industrial revolution had taken Lennitz and all of Bravatanian by storm. Dozens of factories rose in the city's skyline, that and the hundreds of new buildings ranging from offices, government buildings, churches, and stores. Spires jutted upwards and carefully painted works decorated the sides of some of the more notable churches. The only other structure that rivaled its size was the resplendent palace of the ages built by king Norrington XI.
Even in this early hour, the city was already alive with activity. Hundreds of workers mixed into the crowds as they made their way to their jobs. Virtually every building had a shop on the ground floor, selling bread, meat, and clothes.
He saw two young women in their frilly white dresses emerge from one such apartment, giggling and walking towards a perfumery just across the street.
Roads were made of cobblestone that was much smoother and less bumpy than the dirt roads he grew up in. Juan closed his eyes and felt the gentleness of how the coach glided across the streets. Best of all there was no traffic, no jaywalker and no angry drivers shouting at one another. The cab driver looked away from the horse's for a moment to check up on his passenger. “It's a wonderful sight, is it not?”
“It is a magnificent city.” Juan agreed, peering out the window as a group of children ran after the cabs. They smiled and pointed him, a wave was his response.
“Well, you can thank King Archibald for that.” The driver replied solemnly, referring to the current king's late father. “God bless his soul.”
As the carriage made a turn the moved to a different section of the city. His heart immediately stopped as he saw the stark change of scenery. Whereas the first part was bustling and lively, this area was oddly deserted save for workers who occasionally left a house, hunched back and with a dead look in their eyes as they trudge along the sidewalk.
There were fewer shops here and more residential buildings. Houses were common enough here, but apartments vastly outnumbered them. The buildings were practically merged together leaving scarcely any room in between. Cheap slate and concrete seemed to be the main material for construction. One look at the crumbling structures confirmed his suspicions.
Water that was now dark brown flowed freely on the sides streets to sewage grates. Juan wrinkled his nose in disgust as he put his head back in the carriage, the streets stank of waste.
Even with the rising sun, this place felt dark. In the sky he saw the cause; the factory loomed ominously overhead, the smoke coming out from it cast an even greater shadow that nearly consumed the entire street. From the darkness, or at least the people hiding in the darkness seemed to follow after him. Juan felt a sense of relief when he reached into his coat and felt the butt of his pistol.
The driver laughed as his carriage began to slow down. “Not used to this part of the city eh?”
“I am not used to any city,” Pinowan admitted looking around for the end of the street where the life could return, but the road continued to move on forever.
“A country boy then?” He smirked as his carriage pulled moved towards the side of the street. “I’ve been seeing plenty of those here recently. Well, welcome to Lenitz.”
The horses unceremoniously came to a complete stop as the driver hopped out pulled the door open. He still had a smirk on his face as he helped Juan with his suitcase this time. “Well, here’s 32 Barrington street.” The driver spread his arms out to show an ugly three-story apartment building that looked older than Juan’s great-grandfather and was covered with a layer of soot.
He looked at the sign on the side of the door and true enough in rusted brass was the numbers 32. Feeling his hopes deflate, Juan reached into his pocket and paid the driver his fare before entering the house.
A quick sweep around the house told Juan that there was a single restroom on every floor, rusted pipes, moldy ceilings and walls, and what he certainly hoped were not bullet holes.
But then again he didn’t rent the apartment here for comfort, he rented it cause it cost a measly two and a half Crowns a month. He shut the door and made sure that it was locked, and that his pistols hammer was cocked just in case. Still, he had wished the friend who told about this place bothered to mention these other things.
Juan sighed with relief as he sunk into his chair, feeling the aged leather resting on his back. A cloud of dust practically exploded as soon as his bottom touched the cushion. He coughed and swept his hand back and forth to clear the air. Though there were holes that exposed the yellow stuffing, it was one of the few luxuries he had.
He set his suitcase on the table and unlocked it. The lid was pulled upwards to reveal a typewriter resting a stack of papers. Some were blank and meant for the machine while the others contained important documentations he needed. There were his toiletries and extra sets of clothes including an extra pair of boots, and a few memorabilia from his home. As Juan removed them, a leather pouch tumbled out and landed on the floor with a heavy thud.
Juan didn't remember packing that with him. He bent down and removed the small band around its opening. Four figures quickly fell out onto the table.
A smile slowly formed on his face as he saw these little figures. His mother must have packed in with his things before he left.
He started to arrange them one by one on his nightstand. The first was larger than the rest, it was shaped like a human man with a large belly and a single eye on its forehead. Its mouth was opened in a vicious snarl. A Bungisngis.
The next was a combination of a horse and a man, unlike the horsemen of the Western Kingdoms, the creatures had the head and legs of a horse and the torso and arms of a human. Its hair was a shaggy mane of black. A Tikbalang.
The next was a one a half-fish, half-woman hybrid. From the waist down she had a green fishtail, and from the waist up she was a beautiful woman clad in nothing but a pair of seashells who covered only the tips of her large breasts. She sat on a rock and had a small sea turtle at her side. A Sirena.
The last one was the most disturbing. It was one he's seen too often and gave him nightmares when Juan was a boy. It was one of a hideous old hag whose arms were flailed out as if casting a spell, behind it were two batwings that were larger than her body. Juan frowned as he tugged at the creatures wait. True to the myths, her body split apart. A Manananggal.
Juan admired the craftsmanship that went into each one of them, the detail and paint were stunning considering that they were all only the size of a thimble. Her mother had begged Juan to bring them with him, to ward off evil spirits she said.
Even assuming such creatures existed, why would they journey across the world to punish one person. He had said to her.
He also brought a few other memorabilia from his home, and of course, there were most of his life savings. Over twenty-five thousand Crowns in kept in neat bills.
Those he kept carefully into the hidden compartment in his suitcase before sliding it under his bed. Juan walked over to the closet and pulled it open. He wiped the air as another layer of dust was blown out. Something squeaked and scampered out from the armoire that caused him to jump back. As the rat ran towards the little hole in the wall, Juan was tempted to trying taking a shot at it with his pistol but decided against it. This apartment had too many problems already, he didn't need angry neighbors complaining about noise to be another one.
Once he was sure all the parasites from the closet were gone, Juan proceeded to place his clothes inside, hanging his coats and pants while setting his boots on the floor. He kept the toiletries on the nightstand along with his family pictures before sinking onto the chair.
With his unpacking down, Juan began to sort through his papers, separating his passports and other documents he might need as an immigrant along with those that were blank, leaving him only with the reports his contacts in Pinowa and Bravatinia had given him.
A smile slowly began to form on his lips as he read the documentation again. It was a series of interviews from the farmer's in his home countries, expressing their thoughts on their colonial masters. As he ran through them, ideas already began to form the title and story he had. His fingers began to press against the typewriter, each key he pressed made an audible clicking noise. Juan glanced at his pocket watch and grinned. Only nine o’clock, that's plenty of time to get some writing done.