The courier was just minding his own business. There was no need for the Corbettite monk to be so officious. The parcel simply needed to be on the seat next to him, and not stored in the hold. He brandished his tickets to the conductor monk and stated flatly, “You see, I have two tickets. I don’t see that there is a question.”
The monk peered at the tickets, holding them right up to his nose. He scowled down at the courier and the parcel. The parcel was about half a metre square, made of a flawless white material, with copper tubing running along part of its surface. The conductor’s spark instincts twitched at the sight of the dials on the control panel, but without his glasses he couldn’t read them. The parcel was humming softly, emitting an occasional hiss. Scowling back at the tickets, he growled, “I don’t see any Dangerous Goods certification on this ticket. You have to declare if you’re carrying Dangerous Goods, especially to Mechanicsburg.”
The courier waved his hand dismissively. “All goods are Dangerous Goods once they get to Mechanicsburg. Check the permits again, you’ll find them all in order.” He reached up to the tickets and pointed to a stamp in one corner of each ticket, partially hidden under the conductor’s thumb. “And your glasses are on top of your head.”
The conductor shot the courier a cross look as his hand flew up to his head. He put the offending glasses on and peered at the tickets again, holding them at arm’s length and slowly bringing them to where he could focus. His eyes widened with comprehension as he read the stamps, and he hurriedly handed the tickets back to the courier, harrumphing, “Yes. Well. Very sorry to have disturbed you, sir. Would Sir like a drink from our refreshment trolley?” He snapped his fingers at an acolyte rolling a trolley further down the car, who hurried up at the conductor’s summons.
The courier put the tickets back into his breast pocket and folded his hands on his lap. “No, thank you,” he said haughtily in the direction of the window.
One of the passengers the acolyte had passed by raised a claw, “Hoy! Hy vould like-" but was elbowed and shushed into silence by his seatmates.
Vanamonde von Mekkhan pulled out his watch from the waistcoat pocket. After consulting the readouts on its enormous dial, the seneschal simply nodded and waved the courier through. “Right on time, very good.” The parcel, held aloft by only-sparks-knew what agency, glided smoothly alongside the courier as they entered the city gates. von Mekkhan motioned to his assistant to accompany the courier, but she was nowhere in evidence.
Distracted, von Mekkhan stopped the courier again and asked him to wait, but the courier delicately picked Vanamonde’s hand off his sleeve. “There is no need for an escort, I can find the way easily,” he sniffed. “Your coffee’s getting cold.” He turned on his heel without waiting for von Mekkhan’s reply.
Vanamonde motioned to the duty guard to take his place, now that the expected special delivery parcel had been sighted. Agitatedly he started to follow the courier and his parcel, when his assistant came out from the side tunnel of the gate. “Seneschal! I’m sorry I was delayed, there was a matter of a hat…”
Van strode away from the gate with a brusque, “No time!” But he’d only gotten a few steps away when he realised he’d lost the courier in the bustle by the gate. He returned to the gate to retrieve his coffee. Blast, it was cold. He sloped away to his ‘office’ to get a fresh cup.
The courier strode on through the city, oblivious to the teeming tourists trampling Mechanicsburg’s snowy streets into slush. The hawkers reached out to him, trying to interest him in ‘guaranteed’ elixirs, ‘patented’ devices, and ‘meat’ pies. A little boy with enormous fake spiky teeth started to pace alongside, fascinated, until his mother put down the ‘verra nize’ hat she was trying on and yelled out, “Percival! Come back here this … err I mean, Boy! Hyu come bek!”
The unfortunate tourists that got too close to the floating parcel let out a yelp as they encountered its protective field. The gravy from a dropped pie dripped off the field without marring the flawless and shadowless white surface. The pair of hands that attempted to snatch the parcel held on steadfastly as they started to smoke, adding a layer of black onto their purple skin. Cursing, the owner of the smoking hands finally let go. The courier didn’t turn around even when his mother’s parentage was loudly called into question.
The courier and the floating parcel came to a halt outside the large theatre on the fringes of the tourist district. The cold wind wafted the smell of brewing ale across his face as he gazed upward at the sign above the door. The cold fist wafted the smell of ‘meat’ pie as it removed his face, leaving it in the slush and mud, staring upward at the sign, which read “Mamma Gkika’s”. As the courier’s body soundlessly crumpled to the ground, three figures arrayed themselves around the parcel, at a respectful distance from it.
The door to the theatre opened slightly, and through the crack an eye gleamed. “De ticket uffice iz opening at four,” a surly voice growled, “doors open four-dirty, ja?” Then the eye looked up and down the parcel and the three figures bowing deeply alongside it, all wearing wide toothy grins and holding their hats to their chests. “Hmppff,” the owner of the eye snorted, before opening the door wider. She was over two metres tall, with blue hair coiled into an elaborate beehive that made her appear even taller. She was wearing a lilac dressing gown adorned with gold heraldic gryphons, and a supercilious expression curling her underbit lips. “Vat do hyu boyz vant, hmm?”
“Hello, Mamma Gkika. Ve brought hyu a prissent!,” the tallest of the three smiled, putting his purple hat back onto his long purple hair with a flourish of his purple (albeit somewhat blackened) hands.
“Heppy Velluntine’s Day!,” crowed the blond one, gesturing at the floating box.
The green one with the yellow eyes stepped slightly to his left to block Mamma Gkika’s view of the crumpled courier, “ve brung diz all de vay from Pariz.”
“All right den, Maxim, Dimo, Oggie,” Mamma drawled, nodding at each in turn before looking sideways at the courier clank leaking brown engine oil and gears into the slush, “dot’s nize. Hwhy dun hyu bring eet in.”
The three jaegers looked at each other nervously and gulped. Maxim’s burnt hands twitched reflexively. “Hyu go ahead, Oggie,” he said. Oggie winced and recoiled from the box, which gave him a shock but did not move.
The spray of bright yellow horsehair adorning Dimo’s hat quivered noticeably as Dimo approached the box. He paused to put on the goggles which had been around his hatband. “Neffer mind,” his smile stiffening somewhat to a strained rictus, “hy vill gets diz.” The horsehair set to jumping in earnest and his sharpened yellow teeth clattered together as he attempted to grasp the box. Smoke poured out of his ears. “It, ahh, it gots jammed ven de Bears attecked de train,” he stammered as he disengaged, rubbing his knuckles. The box stayed where it was, flawless and floating.
“Bears. Hmpf,” Mamma Gkika sniffed and raising her voice said, “hyu are talkink to Mamma Gkika.” She strode up to the box and lay her hand over the top, then proceeded to nonchalantly guide the now-obedient box into the theatre. The three astonished jaegers followed her inside. “Hyu should knowz better den to shoot de mezzenger, ja?,” she looked sidelong at them, “klenkz don’ grow on treezez, hyu know.”
“Yez dey doez,” Oggie piped up, “hy sawz dem, in diz orchurd in Sturmhalten, dey wuz-“
Mamma shushed him with a gesture. She extended one polished black claw to the box and touched a button on the control panel. With a low whirr, a seam appeared around the previously flawless white box and with a hiss the lid started lifting.
“Vot iz it,” Maxim wondered aloud. Oggie shrugged. Dimo rolled his eyes at the other two.
“Hyu tell me, hyu wuz de vun giffing it to me,” Mamma grinned, showing all of her many many sharp teeth. A greenish white light streamed into the gloom of the theatre’s foyer from under the lid, which Mamma deftly lifted off before she reached inside.
She pulled out a large cardboard box covered in flocked red velvet. Discreetly printed in gold letters on the side were the words ‘Le Chat Chocolat.’ “Don’ be shtupid, hy knowz hyu don't give me deze. De Mazter uff Pariz,” she purred, “he iz remembrink effry year.”
"Dizmemberink vot?" Oggie asked.
"Neffer hyu mind dot," Mamma snorted.
Maxim clouted Oggie on the shoulder, "Iz rude to ask dot, Oggie, hey!"
Dimo grinned, "Ho yezzz, de sparkz keep de parts dey dizmember, und ve don' ask hwhy, hyu know dot." Oggie shrugged.
Mamma Gkika shifted her weight from one leg to the other. Looking at the three pairs of jaeger eyes looking expectantly at her, she lifted an eyebrow. “Don’ hyu boyz gots zum mayhem to commit zumvere?” Abashed, they turned to go. She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Hokay, wait a minnit, vould hyu like zum chokky?” She held out the open box. “But don’ takez de lavender creamz, dey’z my favouritez, ja?”
“Hy likez de marzipan vunz bezt,” said Maxim, reaching out to choose a chocolate. Dimo elbowed him roughly in the side, then nodded his head and rolled his eyes exaggeratedly at Mamma when Maxim glared at him. “Oh yez,” he smirked, “tenk hyu, Mamma Gkika.”
“Hyu velcome, boyz,” Mamma smiled indulgently, “Heppy Velluntine’s Day.”